How much does that lower price fabric really cost?

25 08 2009

OK, I know it sounds self-serving to begin talking about the price of something when we’re in the selling business.    But how many times have you bought something because of the low price?

A new book by Ellen Ruppel Shell, called “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture”,  examines the price, value and cost of things – all sorts of things.  According to the author, a contributing editor for The Atlantic, there is no such thing as cheap, because the cost is being paid for by somebody.    ChemicalCocktailCover

She uses the shrimp industry in Thailand to demonstrate her hypothesis:  traditional shrimp farming operations in Thailand were converted into gigantic factories (with the help of international investors).  Among the more serious problems created by gigantic shrimp farms is the degradation and loss of natural coastal resources, where vital fish breeding and nursery habitats are being lost to the shrimp farms.  Chemicals were used to produce artificial conditions which made the factories productive.  (Read more about modern industrial shrimp aquaculture here.)  But the shrimp couldn’t flourish in these conditions (i.e., it was not, to use that word again, sustainable) so the shrimp got sick and their ponds became “black holes of pollution and toxic waste.  What followed was ruinous debt, environmental degradation, horrifying human rights abuses and violence that left millions destitute”, writes Ruppel Shell.

For many manufacturers, cost cutting is paramount, and many companies compete only on price. Robert Lawrence, the Harvard economist, told Ruppel Shell that we’re not even building better mousetraps anymore – just cheaper ones, which makes innovation almost impossible.

In textiles, that translates to continued use of that cheapest of alternatives: polyester.  It’s ubiquitous in the market,  and there is no great rush to try to find good alternatives.  Third party certification programs, the watch dogs of the industry, are not being promoted by stakeholders, and companies are slow (or reluctant) to certify their fabrics.  Please note that there are many certified FIBER products on the market, largely because fiber crops come under many food certification programs since many of the fiber crops are also food (such as cotton and flax, both of which are grown for the seed and used in food products).  But the manufacturing of the fabric is largely ignored, and low cost synthetic (often toxic) chemicals are still being used.

There has been lots of press in the U.S. recently about  tainted Chinese products ranging from toxic toys to pet food and drywall,[1] but the focus is shifting to the role multinational companies play in demanding ever-lower prices for Chinese products.   By demanding ever lower prices for goods, the Chinese suppliers are forced to reduce or ignore environmental safeguards in order to compete. “Prices in the U.S. are artificially low,” says Andy Xie, former chief economist for Morgan Stanley Asia, who now works independently. “You’re not paying the costs of pollution, and that is why China is an environmental catastrophe.” In 2007, the World Bank estimated that in China 760,000 people die every year from pollution – and in 2008, reports were that water pollution in China had gotten worse.[2]

In a chilling premonition to Ruppel Shell’s book, the Wall Street Journal ran an article in August 2007 (for which it’s author, Jane Spencer,  won a Pulitzer) about  the heavy environmental price that China has paid for the cheap textiles being produced there. (3)

In the textile industry, treating contaminated water costs upwards of about 13 cents a metric ton, so large factories can (and apparently, do) save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by sending waste water directly to rivers – in violation of China’s water-pollution laws. Jane Spencer cited findings from an investigation into the Fuan Textile mill as an example.  Fuan was caught dumping 22,000 tons of contaminated water a day (add that up: for one year that’s 5.3 million tons)  into the local river, turning it dark red.

Large US companies who have Chinese textile suppliers  (and that includes many household names such as Target, Liz Claiborne, Kohl’s, Calvin Klein, Wal Mart and Nike, among others) often turn a blind eye to what the Chinese are doing to be able to offer ever lower prices – so they can continue to offer the lowest cost products.

One of the easiest ways to cut costs is to slash labor costs.  Although a job of any kind is a step up from the grinding rural poverty that many workers come from, these workers have no leverage to demand higher wages or more humane treatment.  “We lecture our kids on social responsibility and then buy them toys assembled by destitute child workers on some far-flung foreign shore,” Ruppel Shell writes. “Somehow the Age of Cheap has raised cognitive dissonance to a societal norm.”

factory_girl

fashion_victims_report

War on Want has an ongoing campaign for corporate accountability in the textile sector.  They are trying to achieve  “proper” regulation of multinational companies by exposing the true human cost of the goods sold so cheaply in stores in the UK.   In their 2006 report, Fashion Victims, they present the result of interviews with workers in Bangladesh who make the clothes sold by bargain retailers in the UK such as Primark, Asda and Tesco.

Watch the video here.

In Fashion Victims, they ask, “how cheap is too cheap” and tell the story of workers who are paid a fraction of a living wage and who must  work 80-100 hours per week in countries around the world where jobs are scarce.  And sadly, since the 2006 Fashion Victims report, an updated report (click here) shows that conditions have actually gotten even worse.

If you want to help – before you buy any textile product, inquire about how/where it was made.  The company selling the product should know the answer !  Support organizations that fight for the rights of workers, such the National Garment Workers’ Federation (NGWF) in Bangladesh and Colectiva de Mujeres Hondurenas (CODEMUH) in Honduras.   Also see our post on child labor in the cotton fields, “Happy May Day”, published on May 1, 2009.

And support those companies that are having their goods certified by third parties like Oeko Tex or GOTS.  It costs money to have the certification process completed, in addition to the water treatment they must put in place, or any other changes that must be made to be compliant.  GOTS has many requirements in the social justice area: no forced or bonded labor, no child labor, fair wages, the ability of workers to do collective bargaining, mandated rest periods, and safe and hygenic working conditions are just some of the requirements under GOTS.    Some companies which HAD been certified are choosing to save money by not paying the fees to have the certifications extended when their payments become due.  And that puts us all back to square one.


[1]http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/component/option,com_ettopic/topicid,38/

[2] Brownlow, K. and Renzi, S. 2007. “Is Guangdong the Dark Horse in Addressing Ecological and Human Health

Threats?” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, China Environment Series 9 (2007). Available at

http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1421&fuseaction=topics.publications&group_id=375132.

(3)  Spencer, Jane, “China Pays Steep Price as Textile Exports Boom”, Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2007.

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Bamboo and the FTC

19 08 2009

Bamboo-background

“Bamboo” fabric has taken the world by storm – people love its luxurious softness, smooth hand and gentle drape,  and they also seem to love its eco credentials (as touted by those selling the fabric).

It’s easy to tout bamboo (the plant) as eco friendly, because it is a wonderfully beneficial plant and just might be the world’s most sustainable resource: It’s the fastest growing grass and can grow up to a yard or more per day.  Growing bamboo improves soil quality and helps rebuild eroded soil. The extensive root system of bamboo holds soil together, prevents soil erosion, and retains water in the watershed. It doesn’t require replanting after harvest because its vast root network continually sprouts new shoots, all the while pulling in sunlight and greenhouse gases while converting them to new growth.  All this without the use of tractors or other machinery using petroleum, and without pesticides or fertilizers.

Bamboo (the plant) produces a huge biomass, both above and below ground.  One study found bamboo produces 14 tons of wood per acre, as against 8 for loblolly pine[1]; planted in large groves, it can store four times the CO2 as a stand of trees of similar size, and it releases 35% more oxygen.[2] Currently there are no known genetically modified organism (GMO) variants of bamboo.

But though bamboo the plant can be terrifically sustainable and beneficial, bamboo the fabric can raise environmental and health concerns – but like many issues on the green front, the answer is not black and white.  Some bamboo fiber can be green and some is not – and some green bamboo fiber can be woven conventionally and dyed with dyestuffs that contain lead, mercury, or other heavy metals, mutagenic chemicals that change our DNA or endocrine disruptors which affect our hormone balance.  And the factory using these chemicals probably did not treat their effluent before returning it to our waterways.

The Federal Trade Commission has finally acted to restrict some of the more outrageous claims being made about textiles, bamboo fabric specifically:  they have charged four sellers of clothing and other textile products with deceptive labeling and advertising.  Their intention is to demonstrate that unsubstantiated green claims in the clothing and other textile related product categories will not be tolerated.  And believe me, that’s a GREAT thing, because claims are being made for “green” textiles of every stripe – often stretching the “green” issue to the limit.   But to categorically say bamboo fabric is NOT green is to overstep in the opposite direction.   There is some naturally retted bamboo (processed like flax or hemp) on the market though it’s still hard to find.  The process used to turn bamboo into a fiber which is used almost exclusively today, the viscose process, can also be eco friendly if the manufacturer makes the effort to capture emissions and treat effluent.   We have to stop and take the time to evaluate claims.

Let’s give it a go.

“Rayon” is the generic name for any man-made fiber made from cellulose  – man in this case applies a chemical process to transform the cellulose.  It’s usually used with cellulose found in very hard and woody plants, such as wood or bamboo, although it can also be made from algae or other types of cellulose.   Cellulose is a carbohydrate and the chief component in the walls of plants.  There are several chemical and manufacturing techniques to make rayon, but the most common method is the viscose process.  In the viscose process, cellulose is treated with caustic soda (aka: sodium hydroxide) and carbon disulfide, converting it into a gold liquid about the color and consistency of honey, called viscose.  Viscose is forced through fine holes, called a spinerette, directly into a chemical bath where it hardens into fine strands.  When washed and bleached these strands become rayon yarn.  Most rayon made today uses this viscose process, which dates to the early 1900s.


RayonDiagram

Viscose is known as a “regenerated cellulose” fiber – in other words, it is reconstituted from cellulose.  Other regenerated cellulosic fibers include lyocell, Tencel®, modal and MicroModal – these are all made from wood.  Although the viscose process of making rayon from wood or cotton has been around for a long time, it wasn’t until 2003 that a method was devised for using bamboo for this process.(3)

The reason the viscose process is thought to be detrimental to the environment is based on the process chemicals used.  Though sodium hydroxide is routinely used in the processing of organic cotton, and is approved by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), carbon disulfide can cause nervous system damage with chronic exposure.  And that “chemical bath” to harden the threads?  Sulfuric acid.  These chemicals do not remain as a residue on the fibers – the proof of this is that almost all of the viscose produced can be (and often is) Oeko Tex certified (which certifies that the finished fiber has been tested for any chemicals which may be harmful to a person’s health and contains no trace of these chemicals.)

The problem comes in disposing of these process chemicals:  the sodium hydroxide (though not harmful to humans) is nevertheless harmful to the environment if dumped into our rivers as untreated effluent.  Same with carbon disulfide and, certainly, sulfuric acid.  Oeko Tex certifies only the final product, i.e.,the fibers or the fabric.  They do not look at the production process, which can be devastating.  The production could be done in a closed loop process, capturing and reclaiming all the chemicals used during manufacture, but this is seldom done.

And then of course there is the weaving of these viscose fibers into fabric – if done conventionally, the environmental burden is devastating (in terms of chemical and water use) and the fabric itself probably contains many chemicals known to be harmful to our health.

What is the FTC saying in their charge of deceptive advertising?  The unsubstantiated green claims they take issue with are:

  • The claim that the products are manufactured using an environmentally friendly process.
    • As I explained above, the claims may or may not be true.  Certainly the standard viscose production process is definitely NOT environmentally friendly, but some manufacturers use new closed loop systems, treat and/or recycle wastewater and capture emissions.  Tencel® certainly advertises its environmentally friendly production processes, based on closed loop systems, and a new non-toxic solvent (amine oxide) which, they say,  is 99.9% recycled.  Tencel® brand takes great pains to differentiate itself from viscose (saying that it is different because it’s based on solvents, but  I cannot find what they really mean by this as it seems to me they’re just using different chemicals.)  In the lyocell/Tencel process, the wood pulp is dissolved in N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide, then pushed thru spinneets to form individual fibers.  Although there is little by-product, the process uses a lot of energy and the solvent used is a by-product of gasoline production.
  • The claim that these products retain natural antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant.
    • There has been little research done on viscose made from bamboo.  However, many studies have been done by Lenzing Group, which produces Tencel®.  One study sponsored by Lenzing found that “bacterial growth on textiles made from cellulosic fibers as compared to synthetic fibers showed lower bacterial growth”.[4] Of course, many claims assert that bamboo’s “natural antimicrobial properties” are retained by the viscose fibers.  However, could  it be possible that the exceptional water absorption ability of cellulosic fibers retards bacterial growth, as Tencel® claims?
  • The claim that they are biodegradable.
    • Ohio State University’s Consumer and Textile Sciences fact sheet on lyocell says it is “biodegradeable and recyclable”[5] and Tencel® also makes that claim – as seen in many advertisements about products made from this fiber. Is the bamboo viscose not as biodegradeable and/or recyclable as lyocell and Tencel®, both very similar fibers to bamboo viscose?  What is the inherent difference that would preclude the degredation of one and not the other?

The FTC says that “bamboo is not a generic fiber”.  Their reasoning is that the products are advertised as being made of “bamboo” when they should be saying the products are made of “rayon” or “rayon from bamboo”:

  • The differences between lyocell, Tencel, modal and viscose gets WAY technical; I think it’s sufficient here to note that they are all known by their fiber or brand names, rather than the cellulose source used in production.  For example, rayon is derived from wood pulp – and the kind of wood used can vary from beech, pine, spruce and hemlock to Eucalyptus – it’s not known as “lyocell rayon from beech” or “Tencel rayon from beech trees” as the FTC is requiring for “rayon from bamboo”. MicroModal, another regenerated cellulosic fiber, is even classified as “cotton” for importation by U.S. Customs.(6)

I guess I’m glad they’ve finally drawn a line in the sand.  Something is always better than nothing.  But I’m disappointed that they’re focusing on the fiber and ignoring the processing, because the processing is both a huge environmental burden (if done conventionally) and potentially very harmful to us and our kids.  So why stop with the fiber?  The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) addresses these issues.  If manufacturers were forced (by the market or by federal regulations) to have third party certifications in place, we’d all be healthier and the ecosystem would have a better chance.  Perhaps the FTC could spend some effort spreading the word about GOTS and what exactly a GOTS certified fabric is  and why it’s better than a fabric (non certified) made with a GOTS certified – or organic – fiber.


[1]Raver, Ann, “A Cane the World Can Lean On”, New York Times, July 5, 2007

[2] Janssen, Jules A., Technical University Eindhoven, 2000

[3] US patent 7313906 by Xiangqi Zhou, Zheng Liu, Liming Liu and Hao Geng

[4] http://www.lenzing.com/fe/media/I_22-30_FIRGO_The_Functional_Properties_of_TENCEL.pdf

[5] http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5572.html

[6] http://www.askandyaboutclothes.com/forum/archive/index.php?t-49815.html





What does organic wool mean?

11 08 2009

Last week we talked about the importance of livestock management in the battle against climate change.  It came as a real revelation to this city girl that large grazing animals are a vital and necessary part of the solution to climate change.   Sheep can actually help to improve soils, which improves the soil’s ability to absorb water and maintain its original nutrient balance – and most importantly, by increasing the organic matter in the soil, it makes the soil a highly effective carbon bank.

many sheep

So the management of the livestock can be beneficial – but it’s a long way from a sheep in the pasture to a wool fabric.  So let’s look at the wool produced by these sheep and examine  what “organic wool” means.

In order for wool to be certified organic in the U.S., it must be produced in accordance with federal standards for organic livestock production, which are:

  • Feed and forage used for the sheep from the last third of gestation must be certified organic.
  • Synthetic hormones and genetic engineering of the sheep is prohibited.
  • Use of synthetic pesticides on pastureland is prohibited and the sheep cannot be treated with parasiticides, which can be toxic to both the sheep and the people exposed to them.
  • Good cultural and management practices of livestock must be used.

A key point to remember about the USDA and OTA organic wool designations:  the organic certification extends only to livestock – it doesn’t  cover the  further processing of the raw wool. Should that be a concern?

Wool as shorn from the sheep is known as greasy (or raw) wool. Before it is suitable for further processing it must be washed to remove dirt, water soluble contaminants (called suint), and woolgrease – and there are a lot of these contaminants.  On average, each ton of greasy wool contains:

  • 150 KG woolgrease (when refined this is known as lanolin)
  • 40 KG suint
  • 150 KG dirt
  • 20 KG vegetable matter
  • 640 KG wool fiber

This process of washing the wool is known as scouring.  Scouring uses lots of water and  energy :

  • water for washing:  The traditional method of wool scouring uses large amounts of water to wash the wool – the wool is passed through a series of 4 – 8 wash tanks (bowls), each followed by a squeeze to remove excess water.   Typical scouring plants can consume up to half a million litres of water per day.
  • pollution: The scouring water uses detergents and other chemicals in order to remove contaminants in the greasy wool,  which creates the problem of disposing of the waste water without contaminating the environment.  In unmodified plants, a single scouring line produces a pollution load equivalent to the pollution produced by 30,000 people.[1]
  • energy: to power the scouring line.

wool scour diagram

What about the chemicals used?

Detergents used in wool scouring include alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEOs) or fatty alcohol ethoxylates (more benign); sodium carbonate (soda ash), sodium chloride and sodium sulphate.  APEOs are among those chemicals known as endocrine disruptors – they interfere with the body’s endocrine system   They’re known to be very toxic for aquatic life – they cause feminization of male fish, for example.  (Click here to see what happened to alligators in Florida’s Lake Apopka as a result of endocrine disruptors traced to effluents from a textile mill. )  More importantly they break down in the environment into other substances which are much more potent than the parent compound.  They’re banned in Europe.

The surface of wool fibers are covered by small barbed scales. These are the reason that untreated wool itches when worn next to skin.  So the next step is to remove the scales, which also shrinkproofs the wool.  Shrinking/descaling is done using a chlorine pretreatment sometimes combined with  a thin polymer coating.  (Fleece is soaked in tertiary amyl or butyl hypochlorite in solution and heated to 104° for one hour.   The wool absorbs 1.5% of the chlorine. [2] )   These treatments make wool fibers smooth and allow them to slide against each other without interlocking. This also makes the wool feel comfortable and not itchy.

Unfortunately, this process results in wastewater with unacceptably high levels of adsorbable organohalogens (AOX) – toxins created when chlorine reacts with available carbon-based compounds. Dioxins, a group of AOX, are one of the most toxic known substances. They can be deadly to humans at levels below 1 part per trillion. Because the wastewater from the wool chlorination process contains chemicals of environmental concern, it is not accepted by water treatment facilities in the United States. Therefore all chlorinated wool is processed in other countries, then imported.[3] (For more about chlorine, go to the nonprofit research group Environmental Working Groups report about chlorine, http://www.ewg.org/reports/considerthesource.)  There are new chlorine free shrink/descaling processes coming on the market, but they’re still rare.

Finally, there is the weaving of the yarn into fabric – and all the environmental problems associated with conventional weaving and finishing.  In addition to the environmental concerns associated with conventional weaving, dyeing, and finishing (see some of our earlier blog posts), wool is often treated for moth and beetle protection, using pyrethroids, chlorinated sulphonamide derivatives, biphenyl ether or urea derivatives, which cause neutrotoxic effects in humans.

In the last 10 years, the textile industry,  along with animal ethics groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,  have lobbied against the wool industry, taking a stand against unethical treatment of sheep. In 2004, U.S. retailer Abercrombie and Fitch became the first to sign on to an animal rights campaign boycott of Australian wool that stood firmly against the typical practices of mulesing (where folds of skin around the sheep’s anus are cut off with shears during the wool shearing) and live export of sheep to halal butchers when their wool production becomes minimal.  Other companies such as H&M,  Marks & Spencer,  Nike, Gap,  Timberland, and Adidas (among others) have since joined, sourcing wool from South Africa or South America (where mulesing is not done).  The result of this outcry has led to the increased production of both organic and ethical wool, though it is still relatively minor when compared to the overall global wool production.

To complicate things a bit more, each country maintains their own standards for “organic wool” – Australia, for instance, has no equivalence or agreement with US organic standards.  The International Wool Textile Organization (IWTO) has adopted a new organic wool standard (closely aligned with GOTS) which they hope will be accepted by its members.  In addition, many companies use the term “eco wool”, which means the wool is sheared from free range roaming sheep that have not been subjected to toxic flea dipping, and the fleece was not treated with chemicals, dyes or bleaches – but this is wide open to interpretation and exploitation.  According to the IWTO, “Eco wool” must meet the standards set by the EU Eco-label.

Wool is a fabulous fiber – in addition to its many other attributes, it smolders rather than burns, and tends to be self-extinguishing.  (Read what The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CISRO), Australia’s national science agency,  has to say about the flame resistance of wool by clicking here:   http://www.csiro.au/files/files/p9z9.pdf )  So if you can find organic wool  – making sure, of course, that the term “organic” covers:

  • management of the livestock according to organic or holistic management principles
  • processing of the raw wool,  using newer, more benign processes rather than harmful scouring and descaling chemicals; and wastewater  treatment from scouring and processing
  • weaving according to Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS).  Read more about GOTS here.

…then go for it!  Nothing is quite like it in terms of comfort, resilience, versatility and durability.

But first you have to find it.  And that means you’ll have to ask lots of questions because there are lots of certifications to hide behind.


[1]The Cleanier Production Case Studies Directory EnviroNET Australia, Environment Protection Group, November 1998

[2] “Textiles: Shrink-proof wool”, Time, October 17, 1938

[3] “Fabric: Chlorine Free Wool”,  Patagonia website, http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/patagonia.go?slc=en_US&sct=US&assetid=8516





Why does wool get such high embodied energy ratings?

4 08 2009

The more I learn about organic farming the more impressed I become with the dynamics of it all.   As Fritz Capra has said, we live in an interconnected and self-organizing universe of changing patterns and flowing energy. Everything has an intrinsic pattern which in turn is part of a greater pattern – and all of it is in flux.  That sure makes it hard to do an LCA, and it makes for very wobbly footing if somebody takes a stand and defends it against all comers.

For example, I have been under the impression (based on some published LCA’s) that the production of wool is very resource inefficient, largely based on the enormous need for water: it’s generally assumed that 170,000 litres of water is needed to produce 1 KG of wool    (versus anywhere from 2000 to 5300 to produce the same amount of cotton).  That’s because the livestock graze on land and depend on rainwater for their water – and some LCA’s base the water use on the lifetime of the sheep (reminding me to check the research parameters when referring to published LCA’s).

In addition, industrial agricultural livestock production often results in overgrazing.  As we now see in the western United States, overgrazing in extreme cases causes the land to transform from its natural state of fertility to that of a desert. At the very least, it severely limits plant reproduction, which in turn limits the soil’s ability to absorb water and maintain its original nutrient balance, making overgrazing difficult to recover from. And then there’s methane: livestock are often vilified for producing more greenhouse gases than automobiles.

The exciting thing is that what is known as “holistic management” of the soil makes it possible to use animals to improve, rather than degrade, land.  What’s consistently ignored in the research  is the failure to distinguish between animals raised in confined feedlots and animals grazing on rangeland  in a holistic system.  Research on holistic land management is, in fact, showing that large grazing animals are a vital and necessary part of the solution to climate change and carbon sequestration. Read about holistic land management on the Holistic Managmeent Institute (HMI) website.

The reason holistic practices work, according to HMI, is that grazing animals and grassland co-evolved.  According to the HMI website, hooves and manure accomplish what mechanical tilling and petrochemical fertilizers cannot: healthy, diverse grassland with abundant root systems and improved soil structures that makes highly effective use of existing rainfall.  Domestic animals can be managed in ways that mimic nature, called “planned grazing”:  rather than allowing animals to linger and eat from the same land repeatedly,  animals are concentrated and moved according to a plan which allows the land long periods of rest and recovery.   This planned grazing allows the animals to till packed soil with their hooves, distribute fertilizer and seed in their manure and urine, and move from one area to another before they can overgraze any one spot. In fact, the animals help maintain the soil, rather than destroying it, and increase the amount of organic matter in the soil, making it function as a highly effective carbon bank. Properly managed, grazing animals can help us control global climate change:  soil carbon increased 1% within a 12 month period  in a planned grazing project (a significant increase).

This carbon is essential to not only feeding soil life and pasture productivity, but it also affects water infiltration rates. On one trial site where planned grazing was implemented, within two years, the  soil water infiltration rate increased eightfold in comparison to the conventional grazing treatment.

In addition, holistic management of grazing animals eliminates the need for the standard practice of burning crop and forage residues.  That burning currently sends carbon directly into the atmosphere.  If we convert just 4 million acres of land that’s operating under the traditional, conventional agriculture model to holistically managed land – so the residue is not burned – the carbon is captured rather than released.   Look at the difference in erosion in the picture below: compare the severely eroded, conventionally managed riverbank on the left with the Holistically Managed bank on the right.  All the shrubbery and grass means abundant root systems and healthy soil infrastructure underground – both of these sequester CO2.

HOLISTIC mgmtWhat you see on the right is the result of managed animal impact.                     Source: Holistic Management International

According to Christine Jones, Founder, Australian Soil Carbon Accreditation, “The fabulous thing about sequestering carbon in grasslands is that you can keep on doing it forever – you can keep building soil on soil on soil… perennial grasses can outlive their owners; they’re longer-lived than a lot of trees, so the carbon sequestration is more permanent than it is in trees: the carbon’s not going to re-cycle back into the atmosphere if we maintain that soil management… and there’s no limit to how much soil you can build… for example, we would only have to improve the stored carbon percentage by one percent on the 415 million hectares (1,025,487,333 acres) of agricultural soil in Australia and we could sequester all of the planet’s legacy load of carbon. It’s quite a stunning figure.”

 

Data from a demonstration project in Washington State is confirming other worldwide research that grazing could be better for the land than growing certain crops in dryland farming regions – it reverses soil decline (erosion and desertification), restores soil health, and instead of losing carbon through tilling or systems requiring inputs (like wheat farming) planned grazing sequesters carbon; biomass to soak up carbon is increased, and the use of fossil fuel has been reduced by more than 90%.  Wildlife habitat has improved.  The Washington State project even sells carbon credits.

In April of this year, Catholic Relief Service, one of the country’s largest international humanitarian agencies, is launching a worldwide agricultural strategy that adopts a holistic, market oriented approach to help lift millions of people out of poverty.   Read more about this here.