This week marks the 40th observance of Earth Day and the 40th anniversary of Cotton Incorporated; two entities that share a commitment to sustainability.

For the past four decades, the organizers of Earth Day have raised global awareness of environmental issues, with the goal of encouraging activities to sustain the planet. Similarly, Cotton Incorporated has actively encouraged environmental gains in all aspects of cotton production and manufacturing as a means of sustaining the industry and the planet.

Looking ahead to the next 40 years, the efforts of both organizations will have an impact on generations to come.

Sustainability is viewed by the cotton industry as activities that provide environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. By reducing inputs and increasing efficiencies across the supply chain, a sustainable balance is achieved: by reducing chemical inputs; consuming less energy, land and water; the cost of production is reduced while the benefit to the environment is increased. This common sense approach continues to guide the sustainability strategies of the modern cotton industry.

Since it was established in 1970 as the research and marketing company for the cotton industry, Cotton Incorporated has been a staunch advocate of reducing the amount of chemicals and natural resources required to bring cotton products to market.

In a video message on the company’s CottonToday Web site, Cotton Incorporated President and CEO J. Berrye Worsham explains, “In the last 40 years, we have dramatically increased yields, and that means that we are not bringing any more land into production. At the same time, we have reduced the amount of pesticides and other chemicals used in cotton production by 50 percent, as well as reduced the amount of water that goes into growing cotton.” Environmental gains such as these are crucial to future generations.

Over the next 40 years, the population will grow by 50 percent, increasing not only the demand for fiber, like cotton, but also the demand for land to accommodate more people, as well as land to grow other food crops. Other is accurate in reference to cotton, which is regulated as a food commodity by the USDA and which is playing an increasingly larger role in the food industry.

In addition to improved yields, the cotton industry is also exploring innovative uses for the entire cotton plant, and calling attention to visionary organizations that are using cotton in new ways.

Among some of these products are: a natural alternative to synthetic packing material by EcoVative Design; housing insulation made from recycled blue jeans by Bonded Logic; and edible cottonseed — a plentiful and nutritious food of the future — from Texas AgriLife Research.

The efforts of researchers at the Cornell University College of Human Ecology may add an energy-generating benefit to traditional cotton textiles. Under the supervision of Dr. Juan Hinestroza, the Cornell team developed a method of coating cotton fiber with electrically-conductive nano-particles, creating a sewable, drapable cotton fabric that can be used to power portable electronic devices.

Reflecting on the anniversary of the company and the activities of the industry, Worsham states, “The cotton industry has had many significant achievements over the past 40 years and we’re very proud of them.” As for the future, Worsham asserts that, “Cotton incorporated is working to insure that the industry meets the needs of both the marketplace and the planet in the years to come.”