In a broader context, this study represents one of a number of investigations conducted by SEI in the field of sustainable consumption. Sustainable consumption focuses on formulating equitable strategies that foster the highest quality of life, the efficient use of natural resources, and the effective satisfaction of human needs while simultaneously promoting equitable social development, economic competitiveness, and technological innovation. It is within this framework that a comparison is undertaken between the production of five textiles with regard to energy intensity, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and water requirements.

The study compares, in Ecological Footprint terms, five textiles: cotton, organic cotton, hemp, organic hemp and polyester. Modern intensive cotton production has been associated with unsustainable water use and therefore this study will also investigate the water requirements of producing the cotton, hemp and polyester products from growth or synthesis of the raw material to the manufacture of the spun and woven fabric.

The production of any crop, including textile crops, results in some environmental degradation that can impact negatively on people’s livelihoods and deplete biodiversity. However, crop production also has numerous human benefits. For example, in 1993 cotton production and manufacturing provided a livelihood for some 170 million workers in developing countries with approximately 125 million people directly dependent upon cotton growing (Doraiswamy, 1993).

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