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sustainable furniture

The Best Textile Furniture for the Sustainable Home

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Oct 2, 2017

When most people think about sustainable homes, the first thing that comes to mind is energy use. As long as we purchase energy efficient appliances, buy a solar panel or two, and switch to LED lightbulbs, we might think that our home qualifies as “sustainable” or “green.” What we usually fail to realize, however, is that every piece of furniture, the curtains on our windows, and even the bed sheets stored in the bathroom closet all come with their own carbon footprint. 

The challenge of making a home truly sustainable requires us to look beyond the easy answers and simple solutions and take responsibility for the consumer decisions that go in to building and furnishing a home. 

When it comes to textiles, it is easy to overlook the fact that the couch adorning our downstairs living room is covered by a fabric that took huge amounts of energy to power the mills, produce the heat and steam to finish the fabric, while also including enormous amounts of chemicals that will be off-gassing toxic substances into the air we breathe on a daily basis. 

The textile industry, besides having an enormous carbon footprint, is also responsible for all sorts of injustices towards workers in Third World countries who work at sweatshops to produce the fabrics that embellish our home. If that weren't enough, the textile industry today relies heavily on huge amounts of dangerous chemicals to produce the synthetic fabrics that are most often used in furniture today.

Features of Sustainability in the Textile Industry 

To determine whether a specific textile is or is not sustainable, we need to look at three main factors. Below, we offer several questions that might be useful to ask in order to determine the sustainability of a certain textile product. 

  1. Extraction: For natural fibers like cotton, it's important that we know the origin of the fiber and under what conditions it was grown. Was the cotton, for example grown with enormous amounts of chemical pesticides that destroyed the soil and poisoned the underpaid workers? For synthetic fibers, it is important to understand the amount of fossil fuels that were used to produce the fabric. For both natural and synthetic fibers, finding companies that promise to do fair trade commerce with their suppliers is always a plus. 
  2. Production: It is also important to take into consideration how the fibers were used to produce the textile that now adorns the furniture in our home. How much water was used by the company to make the textile? Were the workers treated fairly and paid justly? What sorts of chemicals were used in the production process and do these chemicals pose a health risk to my family or to the larger environment? 
  3. Waste: Even the best-made pieces of furniture eventually make their way to the street curb where the local garbage company will pick up your used furniture and haul it to the municipal dump. Is the material used in the textile furniture biodegradable? Is it possible to recycle the material for other uses by other industries? 

Example of Sustainable Textile Companies

Unless we have personal connections to cotton farmers in Central America or sweatshop laborers in Myanmar, chances are that it will be difficult to answer all of the questions related to the sustainability of the textile industry listed above. Fortunately, there are several textile companies out there that are dedicated to creating fair and just relationships with their suppliers while also making sure that the ecological impact of the extraction, production, and waste related to the textile furniture they make and market is minimal. 

O EcoTextiles is one company that specializes in finding innovative ways to implement all aspects of sustainability into the production of textiles for furniture and other products. Hemp is the raw material used for all of the textiles they make. While hemp might still be confused by many as a relative of marijuana, it is also one of the most ecologically friendly and versatile crops on the market that can be used to create sustainable, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly furniture textiles. 

Abacus Knoll Textiles is another company dedicated to incorporating ecological and sustainable practices into the manufacturing of textiles. While much of the textiles produced by Knoll still follow from market demands, the Abacus line of fabrics actually is made from 100% recycled polyester. Wouldn't it be unique to find a textile to refinish your great-grandmother's old couch that was made from recycled soda bottles? 

With a little bit of effort and research, you can find several other companies that make and market ecological and sustainable textiles for furniture and other household uses. Incorporating elements of sustainability in the textiles that embellish your home is one more important step towards the truly sustainable home. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2018-11-29T19:25:54+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.