As sustainability enters the mainstream of consumer consciousness, regulators and government officials, companies and non-profits, and even consumers themselves are grappling with the question of what exactly qualifies as sustainable. Is a company that claims net zero emissions sustainable even if it pays its workers below living wage? What about a product that's fair trade but ravishing the soil in which it's grown?

These are questions not easily answered, but far too often companies get away with advertising their products as sustainable without being held accountable for proving those claims. Not so with a recent ad campaign by the US cotton industry in England. On Wednesday, the Guardian brought to our attention to the fact that the print ads, which used the line “Soft, sensual and sustainable, it's Cotton USA!” prompted three calls to Advertising Standards Authority challenging the claim that cotton is sustainable. (We're pretty impressed that just three calls was all it took to bring down the ad. Maybe the calls came from powerful lobby groups?)

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