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PLANET

EMMA
KELLER
QUEEN OF
COTTON

Join Emma Keller, WWF’s cotton crusader, on her trip to India to find out how its award-winning partnership with M&S is transforming lives, and the environment, in the name of making the cotton products we bring you more sustainable and becoming a zero-waste business by 2025

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When Emma Keller arrived in a small village in the Warangal region of India, she was blown away to find nearly the whole community had congregated on the streets to welcome her. “I felt like a celebrity, it was incredible” says WWF’s agricultural commodities manager and – sustainability superstar. “Everyone wanted to say ‘thank you’, even the local media were there. It was overwhelming.”

Emma travelled to India to see how the small-holders on the ground were getting on with the progressive farming techniques she promotes. Cotton’s traditional production methods, which use powerful chemicals and pesticides, can be harmful, causing itchy skin and headaches, as well as having a negative impact on flora and fauna. So in 2007 M&S started working with WWF to put that right – and Emma has played a huge part in ensuring the cotton we use is more sustainable now.

Emma, who developed her passion for the environment growing up on a farm in Ireland, admits that learning more about how cotton is produced has changed the way she shops. “I

saw how a T-shirt begins in these fields, and makes its way to the high street; it makes me cherish each item, and realise how important it is that more cotton is sustainable.”

Emma’s work has seen farmers switch to natural pheromones to trap pests, reducing their reliance on dangerous substances, and learn how to use less water. For example, one conventional T-shirt can take up to a staggering 2,700 litres to produce, the same as an average person drinks in three years.

This more sustainable system also means production costs go down and the quality of the crop goes up, all putting more money in farmers’ pockets. Villagers regaled Emma with tales of how they can now build their own houses, their children can go to school and the health of workers has improved dramatically. “We’ve really made a big difference,” she reflects.

Having originally aimed for 25 per cent of M&S’s cotton to be sourced more sustainably, we’ve upped our target to 100 per cent by 2019. With people like Emma championing the sustainable cause, we’re sure it’s a target we’re going to hit.

GETTING BEHIND OUR COTTON

Since 2009 our partnership has helped over 20,000 Indian farmers across nearly 250 villages.
Farmer Ashirwadham uses drip irrigation techniques learned from WWF in his fields to reduce his water use.
The cotton bales get piled high before being driven off to remove seeds from the fibres.
Dead frogs used to turn up in the field as a result of the pesticides the farmers used to spray, whereas now the switch to natural pheromones has reduced the impact on wildlife.
Emma says: “Farming more sustainably has far-reaching benefits beyond the cotton fields, into communities.”
Farmer Jeevitha says: “We depend on the land for our health. If we look after it, we provide better food for our families.”
Get sustainable in a snap

Portrait photographer: Matt Holyoak / WWF photographer: Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom for WWF / Editor: Ian Wright

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