Good, Better, Best: Shopping for Natural Fibers

Good, Better, Best: Shopping for Natural Fibers

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The style business is responsible for 10% of annual international carbon emissions. That means it’s a productive goal for private modifications that may make a big contribution to reducing general human carbon emissions.

You can use thredUP’s style footprint calculator to estimate your private style footprint. When you need to purchase new garments, you’ll be able to search for sustainable clothing brands. But these will be costly and have a tendency to have restricted choices. Since cloth manufacturing accounts for roughly 59% of a garment’s local weather impression, taking note of which materials you purchase may show you how to reduce the impression of your wardrobe refresh.

In basic, pure fibers have a tendency to make use of much less power than synthetics, which signifies a decrease local weather impression. But pure fibers are sometimes extra damaging when it comes to speedy environmental impacts equivalent to land use, water consumption, and ecotoxicity from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and dyes.



Cotton is the biggest non-food crop on the earth, and sadly, its speedy environmental impacts are severe. Growing cotton consumes and pollutes huge portions of water, degrades soil, and generates chemical air pollution that harms employees and habitats. But these impacts and greenhouse gasoline emissions can fluctuate broadly relying on the place and the way the plant was grown.

Cotton Type Kg of CO2 emissions per ton of spun fiber
Conventional cotton (USA) 5.9
Organic cotton (USA) 2.35
Organic cotton (India) 3.8
Data source

But reducing cotton from one’s closet can be a problem. To do some good, pay the associated fee premium for domestically produced natural cotton.


Silk is a protein-based cloth, constructed from the cocoons of Bombyx mori, which is killed within the strategy of extracting the filament. Sericulture (silk farming) normally happens in international locations the place acquiring dependable information is difficult and employee circumstances are unsure. Invasive in America, the mulberry tree is a low-impact crop in Asia that requires few chemical inputs.

The Higg Materials Sustainability Index ranks silk’s impacts increased than most fibers attributable to fossil gasoline use throughout processing. However, no less than one research signifies that carbon sequestration on mulberry plantations might make silk manufacturing carbon constructive.

If you’re going to spend the cash on silk, it’s good to search for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label. Wild silk (aka Peace or Ahimsa silk) is decrease high quality and will be exhausting to search out however doesn’t require boiling the larvae.


Wool is a protein-based fiber, normally sourced from sheep, however generally from goats, alpacas, camels, and even rabbits. Although wool fibers will be collected with out killing the animal, there are nonetheless animal welfare issues – these are significantly well-documented for mohair goats.

One research estimated {that a} kilogram of fine-grade wool generates from 7.83 to 18.70 kilograms of CO2 equivalent (PDF file). That’s a a lot increased local weather impression than cotton. But the manufacturing of wool clothes doesn’t require massive quantities of chemical compounds or dyes, and the ensuing yarn is well recycled and biodegradable.

Especially in case you’re avoiding artificial materials, you might discover some wool clothes obligatory. In that case, it’s good to search for licensed wool. The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) is one distinguished wool certification group; Woolmark and the International Wool Textile Organization (IWTO) are two others.


Cellulosic Fibers

Rayon (aka viscose) is made by extracting cellulose from wooden utilizing solvents. The major solvent, carbon disulfide, is very poisonous. Manufacturers not often recycle it and infrequently launch it into the setting, though higher manufacturing strategies are catching on. Some rayon is likely to be constructed from illegally logged wooden. Due to its advanced manufacturing follow, within the sole qualitative comparison between widespread textiles, rayon ranked the very best greenhouse gasoline emissions of any pure fiber.

Table shows decreased environmental impact with natural fibers
Image source

Despite probably increased carbon emissions, rayon has lower impacts from land use, dyeing, and ending processes than cotton. Particularly Tencel rayon, constructed from licensed wooden with recycled solvent, could be a more sensible choice than cotton or protein-based materials.

Bast Fibers (Hemp, Linen, Jute)

Bast fibers are constructed from the stems of vegetation like hemp, jute, or flax (which makes linen). In basic, these vegetation require little water and fertilizer to develop. No a part of the hemp plant is wasted, and hemp fibers have even been proven to have antibacterial properties. Although bast fibers aren’t with out environmental impacts – particularly within the chemical compounds used for processing, natural hemp and natural flax are among the many most sustainable fibers in accordance with the Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibers. Even once they’re not natural, bast fibers are a greater textile alternative.


What is the perfect pure fiber for the setting? Unfortunately, it’s unimaginable to say.

The style business entails convoluted provide chains and opaque industrial practices. As a end result, the life cycle evaluation of varied textiles is incomplete and inconsistent. Emerging textiles like bamboo is likely to be extra sustainable, however there merely isn’t sufficient information to know but.

In the absence of really sustainable choices, purchase the garments that work finest for you and put on them out. When looking for pure fibers, search for natural and untreated choices. Before you store, apply methods for lowering your consumer carbon footprint to your closet. Because no matter your cloth alternative, shopping for much less is your best option.
This article was initially printed on September 3, 2020.