Sustainability refers to utilizing materials made from products that exploit natural resources without destroying the ecological balance of an area.
Sustainable fabrics can be manufactured from natural or recycled content. Sustainability criteria include textiles that are not made or treated with hazardous chemicals, use no formaldehyde nor have VOC-emitting materials.
Natural fabric (regular "soft" textile fabric) and Woven Wood fabric (Natural Shade fabric) can also be "Certified Organic," which is fabric that is third-party certified to be grown and manufactured without toxic chemicals, but are not necessarily sustainable. Many natural fibers have been grown and manufactured without harmful toxins, but there are no certifying organizations to label them "organic." Some natural fiber fabrics and some roller shade fabrics are manufactured to be biodegradable or recyclable; these are also considered sustainable.
Sustainable fabrics are available in any product that utilizes Natural fabric, Natural Shade fabric, or sustainable Roller Shade fabric (such as the MechoShade EcoVeil).
Natural fabrics are more popular than ever, and you can easily obtain Sustainable and Organic Fabrics for upholstery, windows and accessories – fabrics are available in hemp and hemp blends, striking flax/silk blends, organic cottons or natural cotton twills that have no toxic finishes.
In addition, there are numerous combinations of fabrics in a variety of styles in both solids and prints in a wide range of colors.
- Natural fibers fall into three main groups:
- Vegetable fibers, which come from plants such as cotton, hemp, and flax.
- Protein fibers, such as wool, alpaca, and cashmere which come from the wool and hair of animals.
- Strong elastic fibrous secretion of silkworm larvae in cocoons, which are used to create silk.
All Natural Fiber Fabrics are renewable, and have the potential to be sustainable.
Wool is a natural fiber from sheep. The environmental concerns in its production include flocks of sheep causing land erosion and pesticide runoff from treating the sheep for parasites. There are now many wool suppliers who meet sustainability criteria for land use, animal management and wool processing. Wool that is washed (rather than dipped in chemicals) is sustainable if purchased from sustainable farmers.
Hemp is an exceptional fiber and once was America's largest crop. This fiber has been grown in China for thousands of years. It's a fast growing renewable fiber that does not require any chemicals to enhance its growth. Since it naturally aerates the soil, it eliminates the need for crop rotation and minimizes any potential soil erosion. It also has half the water needs of other plants, including cotton. It is among the strongest natural fibers, is very absorbent, and is inherently stain, mold and UV light resistant.
While cotton is used in about half of the world's textiles, it also accounts for more than 25% of the worldwide insecticide market and 10% of the pesticide market; this product has enormous polluting possibilities. Due to this, there has been an emerging trend (that has been growing exponentially since the early 1990's) toward utilizing organic cotton. Organic cotton is grown in varying colors thus eliminating the use of dyes. If colored cotton is used, it would be sustainable if grown in the color or if processed using non-chlorine bleaches (which usually means safer peroxide bleach) and non-toxic dyes.
Flax and Linen are fairly interchangeable terms. Linen fibers come from the inner bark of the flax plant. It is very durable with an appealing natural color but is also commonly bleached or dyed. To be considered sustainable, the fabric cannot use chlorine bleach and/or toxic dyes.
There are a number of types and styles of fabric that are made from recycled content, or are recyclable (such as recycled TPO, polyesters and nylons). Utilizing recycled material for new textile products is growing in popularity. There are over 4 million tons of post-consumer textiles that enter the waste stream every year, mostly going to landfill. Roughly 1 million tons (25%) are collected for recycling. Almost 25,000 tons of new textile fiber is disposed of each year by manufacturers and mills. There is now a process to "re-spin" and make new cotton yarn from waste and several manufacturers have products using re-spun synthetic fibers.
Recycled plastic content fabrics (including PET, soda pop bottles) are considered a sustainable product when not combined with natural fibers.
EcoVeil (a MechoShade fabric) is certified Cradle to Cradle and is a revolutionary, eco-effective solar shade cloth that can be reclaimed and recycled and was the first product of its kind to be environmentally certified.
LEED points: MR Credit 6 for rapidly renewable materials or MR Credit 4 for recycled content materials.