The largest companies consume a shockingly huge amount of the world's natural resources. Ikea, for instance, uses 17.8 million cubic yards of wood a year. When it comes to cotton, there's VF Corp., a relatively unknown corporation that owns some of the best-known clothing brands in the world.
In a fascinating NPR report about the search for an alternative to cotton, we learn about VF—which owns everything from JanSport to 7 For All Mankind to the North Face. It purchases enormous amounts of cotton to manufacture all these clothes, and according to its Senior Director of Sustainability, the amount is equal to "roughly one percent of the cotton available in the world."
The source goes on to explain how VF's dependence on cotton—and thus on climate change and other factors—expose it to major risks. So the company is searching for alternatives to traditional cotton, including more diverse plants and textiles made out of plastic and other emerging materials:
VF is training 400 Chinese farmers to switch to new kinds of cotton plants that use less water. And Webster says VF's labs are also developing futuristic alternatives such as fibers grown from bacteria and adhesive fabrics that can repair themselves to improve a garment's longevity.
Until then, VF's bottom line depends on a number of carefully calibrated bets—on the weather, on labor relations, on the global textile market—and indirectly, if you buy clothing from its sprawling collection of brands, so do you. [NPR]
Lead image of cotton manufacturing via Rehan Qureshi/Shutterstock.