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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
How to Select Sustainable Textiles for the Built Environment

Acknowledging that many textile manufacturers are vague about their products, with little to no proof of sustainability or misrepresenting their claims, can be disheartening. But there are a few key ways to identify a greenwashed product.

As awareness and understanding of their negative environmental impacts increases, the fashion and building industries are re-evaluating their practices and working to minimize their harmful impacts. It’s fantastic to see a collective movement of corporations becoming more mindful of where and how they source their goods and what materials they work with. Businesses of all sizes must practice accountability for their environmental and social impact, leading to a cycle of corporations and consumers influencing one another to collectively do better.

The design industry specifically has an exciting opportunity to lead this environmental charge forward. Equipped with a better understanding of greenwashing indicators and responsible material selection that considers holistic, embedded lifecycle impact; clean manufacturing processes and carbon-footprint evaluation, the industry can achieve meaningful progress and boost stakeholder confidence.

Understanding the textile lifecycle

The manufacturing process is one of the most critical aspects of sustainable material selection. Some common approaches to creating textiles have been recognized as having adverse effects on workers and the environment. For example, Greenpeace asserts that PVC (vinyl) is “one of the most toxic substances saturating our planet and its inhabitants.” With this awareness, organizations are becoming privier to PVC alternatives; and many architects and designers are gravitating towards companies offering plant-based and sustainable products that are third-party-certified.

It’s also crucial for specifiers to understand a material’s durability. Buying quality materials that are built to last through years of wear and tear guarantees a longer, better lifecycle for the product. Not only is this environmentally beneficial, as it reduces waste; it is also more cost-effective in the long run, because customers won’t need to replace products or refurbish their properties as often. Selecting materials from reputable manufacturers with take-back policies or recycling unwanted or discarded materials is one way to participate in a circular economy that’s better for the planet.

The Power of Climate Labeling: Key Learnings from the SB/How Good Partnership

Join us for a free webinar to hear how Sustainable Brands® (SB) and HowGood are revolutionizing event menus with climate-labeled foods. Learn how these labels can drive sustainable behavior change and help you align your brand values with your ingredient choices — Thursday, 18 July 2024, at 2pm EDT.

The pandemic transformed views on sanitation and cleanliness in all public settings. Hotels, healthcare facilities, offices, and other high-traffic spaces have countless surfaces that require regular maintenance and vigorous cleaning protocols. This is why choosing materials that withstand the harshest conditions is crucial and stand up to heavy use without degrading.

Not only does cleanability boost the health and wellness of a building’s inhabitants, it also prolongs the life of a material — a vital tenet of sustainable design.

Building greenwashing awareness

According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll for Google Cloud, many people feel their organization has overstated its sustainability efforts — with 66 percent questioning the authenticity of its sustainability initiatives.

Acknowledging that many textile manufacturers are vague about their products, with little to no proof of sustainability or misrepresenting their claims, can be disheartening. Still, there are a few key ways to identify a greenwashed product.

Manufacturers that greenwash might use terms such as “natural,” “eco,” or “environmentally friendly,” with little to no data to back these claims up. It’s also essential to understand where and how the products are created. For example, some seemingly sustainable materials are mass-produced or manufactured in a way that contradicts or cancels out their environmental benefits.

There are a few ways to identify a truly sustainable product. Reputable companies can provide data and independently verified certifications backing up their sustainability claims. Third-party certifications such as B Corp, Declare and Cradle to Cradle support LEED, WELL and Living Building Challenge projects and are excellent examples of projects constructed with responsibly made materials.

Today, many companies are taking note of our interconnected global crises and are innovating new solutions that are genuinely sustainable. When choosing a textile for a design project, there are many characteristics to consider — including lifecycle cost, production processes and certifications. Avoiding greenwashing, utilizing sustainability-certified brands, and taking into account the true impact of the production of the material on the environment are great ways to ensure materials won’t cause harm to the environment and the end user.