We hate to say it, but there is a dark side to textiles. Unfortunately, fun and cheery prints can become a little less innocent and sweet as the environmental impact of industrial manufacturing becomes more apparent and the more we learn about the effects of pollution on human health. It is sad but true.
Here are some facts: 20 percent of water pollution globally is caused by textile processing and cotton production alone contributes 7 percent of the total. Cotton production also accounts for 3 percent of global water consumption. Linen, widely considered a natural, plant-based product, pollutes waterways with pesticides when traditionally processed.
What can we do as design loving consumers? It would be extremely hard and perhaps a bit severe to compl
etely sever ties with traditionally manufactured home products. We understand this. We couldn’t do it either. However, what we can do is try to soften the impact of our products by sourcing products that follow these four basic tenants of sustainability: organic, natural, recycled, and reduced consumption.
Choosing organic products helps reduce the overall impact of two important stages in textile manufacturing, raw material extraction and production. The most important thing we can do is avoid agricultural chemicals, pesticides, and dyes. This basically means most polyesters, nylons, and acrylics are out as they typically contain PFCs which are, according to LEED, “chemicals to avoid.” Instead, we should choose products that are not treated with chemicals or grown with the use of fertilizers.
Organic and natural really go hand-in-hand, as any product that is organic and then produced naturally is going to be a win-win. In addition, look for products that are produced from natural fibers and processes. Linen is an all-star eco-friendly product if produced using the dew-retting process as opposed to the water-retting process (the main difference being that dew-retting doesn’t submerge the stems of the plants in running water, but instead relies on dew collected on the stems over a period of a few weeks to naturally separate the fibers). Wool is another great example of a natural product that is suitable for the home, highly durable, fashionable, and environmentally sound.
Recycled content is a major element to be aware of and seek out, especially in products that typically are created from synthetic materials. Nylon carpet is basically an industry standard product that would frankly be hard to do without. Always try to find products made with recycled content but that can also be recycled after you are finished with them as well. Keep the life cycle going!
Even wool, a great natural product has a down side. Fifty percent of carbon emissions come from methane from burping sheep. And a sheep’s burps cannot be prevented. The only way to reduce the amount of sheep burps is to reduce the amount of wool being produced. Much like the fashion industry, the design industry needs to consider consumption, “fast fashion,” and the overall life span of products. Choose pieces you love, cherish, and want to hang onto. There is nothing wrong with having sets of decorative pillows for different seasons, just try to reuse them every year.
Hopefully the light shed on textiles doesn’t ruin your love for your favorite home decor items. Don’t let it! Remember, loving what you already have is a great way to reduce the environmental impact of your home. Design is about finding balance and being strategic with the way you use products and create your home environment.
—By Kate Gray Fudim Editor’s Note: Kate Gray Fudim is an interior designer with Beth Haley Design. Kate has a master’s degree in Interior Architecture and Design with an emphasis in sustainable design. Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, focuses on remodeling and revitalizing established homes, as well as creating stimulating, functional, sustainable spaces in new homes.. E-mail your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bethhaleydesign.com.