An initiative that allows mills and brands to identify where cotton used in their fabrics and garments was grown, is to extend to address the issue of sustainability too.

Two years ago Bayer CropScience signed a licensing deal with New York-based textile and apparel company Olah Inc to put the FiberMax and Stoneville cotton seed brands onto clothing.

The two companies have now introduced a programme that provides stringent guidelines for US farmers who grow the cotton, showing them the impact of farming practices on natural resources and helping them operate more efficiently.

The so-called e3 sustainable cotton programme is described as "transparent, environmentally responsible, economically viable, and socially equitable."

Farmer enrolment is voluntary, and requires farmers to commit to continuous improvement in productivity, environmental quality, and personal well-being.

Farm performance is self-evaluated though the Fieldprint Calculator, an online tool designed by Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, and verified with in-season and post-harvest third-party audits.

During harvest, bales are entered into the database and the certified product is sent to the brand. The Fieldprint Calculator shows farmers the impact of farming practices on natural resources, helping them operate more efficiently and establishing a point of comparison with local data averages.

Farmers can identify areas where improvements can be made in areas of sustainability such as productivity, land use, soil loss, irrigation water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

"The concept of sustainable cotton grew out of the desire of farmers, textile producers, brands and retailers to meet consumer demand for a renewable source of cotton," explains Brent Crossland, fibre development manager for Bayer CropScience.

FiberMax is high quality, long-staple upland cotton mainly grown in the United States that is suited for finished goods that require finer yarns, such as T-shirts and chinos.

Stoneville cotton, meanwhile, is strong and suitable for use in heavier weight fabrics and apparel including rugged outdoor work, sports and casual wear such as jeans.