Sustainability + Interiors / Textile Production

For the second installment of our Sustainability + Interiors series, we’re covering textile production. Textiles are used everywhere in interiors - from chairs and sofas to rugs, napkins, and drapery. We also wear them on our skin everyday, but what exactly goes into textile production?

Cotton production can be just as bad as synthetic fiber production    (image source)

Cotton production can be just as bad as synthetic fiber production (image source)

The textile production industry is one of the most complex, chemically intensive, and polluting industries on earth. It’s responsible for an estimated 20% of the pollution of our rivers and lands. Chemicals are used to extract petroleum, which is made into synthetic fibers such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester. Chemicals are also used to transform natural fibers along every step of the manufacturing process: fibers are washed, sized, desized, bleached, dyed, treated with detergents, optical brighteners, biocides, wetting agents, lubricants, stabilizers, emulsifiers, and more…

Chemicals are used throughout the traditional textile manufacturing process    (image source)

Chemicals are used throughout the traditional textile manufacturing process (image source)

Not only do the chemicals often escape into the water or air during the manufacturing process, they are also absorbed by our bodies through the air or skin. Some of the chemicals often used in textile processing and found in the finished product include leads, phthalates, formaldehyde, and perfluorocarbons or PFC’s. There are published studies linking chemicals found in textiles to human health issues such as infertility, autoimmune diseases, cancers, asthma, and others.

Then there is the waste - every year, more than 15 million tons of textile waste is produced in the United States alone. Of this amount, 2.62 million tons were recycled, 3.14 million tons were combusted for energy recovery, and 10.46 million tons were sent to the landfill. Yet nearly 100% of textiles and clothing are recyclable.

Guaranteeing Sustainable Textiles

If minimizing chemicals is a priority for you, then there’s a couple third party certifications that can provide assurance as to the sustainability of the fabric. 

  • Oeko-Tex

    • Oeko-Tex has a range of certifications that cover harmful substances and/or sustainable and socially responsible conditions. 

    • Both the MADE IN GREEN and STANDARD 100 labels prohibit a lengthy list of chemicals which are known or suspected to harm health, and fabrics are required to have a skin friendly pH. (A non-skin friendly pH can cause stresses that leave you vulnerable to bacteria, moisture loss, and irritation.)

    • Only the MADE IN GREEN label addresses anything related to sustainable and socially responsible conditions.

  • Global Organic Textile Standard

    • GOTS certification ensures organic status of textiles from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labelling. 

    • It requires 95% of fibers be certified organic, no harmful chemicals during any stage of the textile production process, and various criteria for processing and manufacturing, and labor management.

Guaranteeing Sustainability in Textiles
Guaranteeing Healthy Textiles

To get you started, here’s a few of our favorite companies that provide Oeko-Tex and GOTS certified textiles:

  • Parachute - all bedding, bath, and tabletop products are Oeko-Tex certified

  • Snowe - all textiles are Oeko-Tex certified

  • Two Sisters Ecotextiles - all fabrics are either GOTS are Oeko-Tex certified

For our next post, we’ll be discussing the waste problem with textiles and what some companies are doing about it. Coming next month!

References:
https://www.nrdc.org/issues/encourage-textile-manufacturers-reduce-pollution
https://www.thebalancesmb.com/textile-recycling-facts-and-figures-2878122
https://www.twosistersecotextiles.com/pages/so-what-chemicals-are-used-in-textile-processing-that-are-supposed-to-be-so-bad-for-us
https://www.twosistersecotextiles.com/pages/why-do-you-say-your-fabrics-are-safe-what-do-you-mean-by-safe

Sustainability + Interiors Series / Introduction

We’re excited to kick off a new series on sustainability and what it means for interiors! In our first installment, read on for thoughts on how to consider sustainability for yourself.

Armadillo & Co’s rugs are made by hand from natural or sustainable materials using Fair Trade practices (  source  )

Armadillo & Co’s rugs are made by hand from natural or sustainable materials using Fair Trade practices (source)

I had always thought of myself as environmentally-conscious with my parent-instilled habits of religiously recycling and only buying new things when the old things could no longer be used. I even wrote a paper in college analyzing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards and criticizing the loopholes in how they evaluated sustainability. But if I really dig into my life, there is so much unsustainability that escapes notice on a daily basis. Our beloved iPhones, for example, do we really want to know the conditions in which those rare earth metals are mined? (We don’t.)

Sustainable, green, eco-friendly - these are all words we hear often, but what do they really mean? Depending on who you ask and the context, there can be many different answers. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states, “To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.” 

Whether or not you care deeply about the global environment, your immediate environment most certainly has an effect on your well-being. As many people have unfortunately experienced at one point or another, paint and carpet fumes most definitely cause headaches. According to the Sustainable Furnishings Council, our indoor environments are two to five times more polluted than our outdoor environment because of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) off-gassing from the furnishings that we bring into our homes. Not to mention, the textile production industry is one of the most chemically intensive in the world, and we are surrounded by textiles on our bodies and environments. 

Inside Cisco Home’s furniture workshop, a company known for their use of Forest Council Certified wood, natural materials, and lack of chemical fire retardants. (  source  )

Inside Cisco Home’s furniture workshop, a company known for their use of Forest Council Certified wood, natural materials, and lack of chemical fire retardants. (source)

So how do we evaluate products and companies for sustainability? Here are four main areas that are helpful in evaluating:

  • Transparent Sourcing

    • Can you trace back the origin of the materials used?

    • Is the material provider producing within ethical and sustainable guidelines?

  • Ethical Manufacturing

    • Are the working conditions safe?

    • Are labor practices non-exploitive?

  • Low-Impact Production

    • Are the negative by-products of production minimal?

    • Are harmful chemicals being used in the product?

  • Upcycled Materials

    • If plastic is being used, is it recycled?

    • Is the wood reclaimed?

It is absolutely difficult, if not impossible, to be 100% sustainable in all areas currently. Our goal in discussing sustainability is not to be perfect, nor to judge or criticize, but to present information so that you can make informed decisions on your interiors based on what is most important to you. Trade-offs are often necessary in design when there are budgets and schedules to consider. However, it’s becoming increasingly easier to make sustainable decisions for your spaces, and we seek to educate and highlight those alternatives in this new monthly series. 

Stay tuned for our next post on textiles. In the meantime, what topic most interests you in sustainability and interiors? Share with us in the comments below.