On 24 May 2010, Keith Tyrell joined PAN UK as its 4th director.
The wear organic team caught up with him for our new feature ‘5 in 5’ to get a measure of the man, his vision for the organisation and his shopping habits.
1.Welcome! What was it that attracted you to PAN UK?
I have long been committed to sustainable agriculture. I first came into contact with PAN UK (then the Pesticides Trust) some fifteen years ago while conducting research into integrated pest management for my Master's Degree. It was the first time I'd seen how an NGO worked up close and I was struck by the sheer professionalism of the organisation. I've continued to keep tabs on PAN UK as I've moved forward in my career and I'm really excited to be appointed as its new Director. PAN UK has a great history and an impressive track record of driving change. Being its new Director is a great opportunity to work on a subject that is close to my heart and, most importantly, to make a difference.
2. Without giving too much away, what ideas have you got to get things started?
PAN-UK has been around for over twenty years now and the agricultural and health policy landscapes have changed in that time. There have rightly been major advances in the control of pesticides, but there is still much more to be done. It's important that we remain relevant and continue to be a force for change. PAN UK needs to raise its profile and get its voice heard, and I'll be working hard to achieve that. I also want to see us work with retailers to help them tackle the use of pesticides in their supply chains. There are some real challenges ahead of us: for example on the implementation of the EU Sustainable Use Directive, and on persuading consumers (and retailers) that it is worthwhile paying that extra few quid for organic cotton, but I believe that society is moving towards a greener future and that will help us deliver our goals.
3. What kind of consumer are you:
a. An evergreen: where possible, I always buy the environmentally or socially responsible alternative.
b. A never-green: I go for the cheapest every time; after all, all trade is good for development!
c. A semi-green: I make my decisions based on both the product and the price.
I'm an evergreen. I usually opt for the environmentally and socially responsible option. It's not always easy and it can't be denied that sometimes it costs a bit more, but environmental options can end up saving you money in the long run - look at energy efficient products - and there are far more environmentally friendly goods around these days.
4. What does organic cotton mean to you?
Organic cotton represents an opportunity to make a real difference to the environment. Very few people realise the impacts that cotton production has on the environment and the huge quantities of pesticides that are involved in producing their cheap jeans or T shirts. Simply buying organic is a concrete way of reducing the pesticide burden on the environment and demonstrating to producers that there is a demand for materials grown without pesticides.
5. In your opinion, what will it take for eco-textiles (organic and fair trade cotton in particular) to become the market norm?
For me, cost is the biggest barrier to wider uptake of eco-textiles like organic cotton. I strongly believe that when presented with a like for like choice where costs are taken out of the equation, most consumers will opt for the organic option. There are a couple of ways of narrowing the gaps in the costs between conventional and environmentally friendly options - the first is to create the market demand for eco-textiles thereby allowing producers to become more efficient and bring costs down. The second way is to ensure that the true environmental costs of conventional production are included. Including these externalities would go a long way to reducing the price difference.
‘5 in 5’ is a new part of the wear organic newsletter. From farmer and garment worker representatives to NGOs, designers and certifiers, every quarter we will feature an interview with leaders within the organic cotton industry and wider sustainable textiles movement. If you would like to know more or make suggestions, please send an email to