US-based Cotton Incorporated has completed a two-year life cycle inventory and life cycle analysis of cotton products that will be used a baseline to measure cotton's environmental impact and ultimately help direct the sector's sustainability efforts.

The study is part of the Cotton Foundation Vision 21 Project and also involved the National Cotton Council and Cotton Council International. It was designed to establish current and accurate benchmarks of potential environmental impacts across the global cotton supply chain.

Under Vision 21, industry stakeholders are compiling a comprehensive cotton lifecycle inventory (LCI). This data will be the basis for global cotton lifecycle evaluations - and ultimately provide a credible foundation for sustainable textile operations.

The life cycle inventory quantifies energy and material inputs and environmental release data in the production of cotton from cradle-to-gate (fibre) and manufacturing from gate-to-gate (fabric).

The associated life cycle assessment models the environmental impact of cotton apparel (a knit golf shirt and woven cotton trousers) from the field through to consumer care, use and disposal (cradle-to-grave).

Data for the cradle-to-gate segment was collected from the three largest cotton producing countries - China, India, and the United States - and reported as a global average.

Similarly, the data for the textile processing phase was culled from surveys among representative mills in the four largest textile processing areas - Turkey, India, China, and Latin America - and is also presented as a global average.

Data for the cut-and-sew and consumer use phase were supplemented by a range of secondary sources.

The life cycle assessment is cotton-centric, so it does not compare the environmental impact of cotton to other fibres.

"The textile industry and consumers alike are weary of competition-motivated green marketing," explains Berrye Worsham, Cotton Inc president and CEO. "This project is about facts, and establishing a baseline to measure cotton's environmental gains moving forward."

The data sets will be made available through such widely used databases as Ecoinvent and the US Life Cycle Inventory, as well as via a reporting tool slated for availability in early 2012.