Critical review of the Life Cycle Assessment of Cotton made in Africa

The  Aid by Trade Foundation, standard setter of the „Cotton made in Africa (CmiA)” sustainability standard, regularly has the impact of the standard reviewed. The aim of the standard is to “help small farmers in Africa to help themselves by trading instead of donating, to improve their living and working conditions and to protect our environment”.

The environmental impact of African cotton is assessed by means of a life cycle assessment in accordance with the international standard for product life cycle assessments (ISO 14040/44). The next life cycle assessment has now been published in 2021. According to ISO 14040/44, comparative LCAs intended for communication with external parties must be critically reviewed. The critical review for this LCA was carried out by a panel, Dr. Ulrike Eberle from corsus was chair of the critical review panel.

The LCA shows that the environmental impact of African cotton is similar to the global average – with the exception of water consumption. The use of water for irrigation is minimal in CmiA cotton compared to the global average. “This is a good indication that the regions studied have suitable climatic conditions for cotton cultivation, an advantage of CmiA over the arid growing regions included in the global benchmark, where cotton cultivation relies heavily on irrigation,” write the authors of the study. This is also evident in the climate impacts: The greenhouse gas emissions caused by CmiA are 13% lower than the global average. This is mainly due to the energy consumption for irrigation in the global average cotton.

Great results for CmiA – especially in view of the fact that cotton plays a key role in poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Aid by Trade Foundation, “the income from the sale of cotton […] represents half of the income of smallholder farmers and their families in many countries in the region.”

Download of the LCA study