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Sustainable Interior Design: Specifying Eco-Fabrics for Hospitality Design Projects

Organic cotton bollsAs consumers become more environmentally mindful about the choices they make, those in the hospitality sector are responding by creating low-impact interiors to attract a new generation of environmentally responsible guests. Eco-friendly environments are becoming less a trend and more the norm – and the good news is that the choices of good quality, stylish and low-impact products are greater now than ever.

Here’s a look at what you need to know about sourcing fabrics and fibers for your sustainable design projects.

Whether sourcing bed, bath or table linens, window treatments or soft furnishings, choose fabrics and fibers that have been cultivated and manufactured using processes that have a minimal impact on the environment. This is not an easy task, as the textile sector is inherently unsustainable for a number of reasons:

1. It is a major user of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

2. Toxic chemicals are often used for dyeing, bleaching and finishing fibers.

3. The industry consumes large amounts of water in its manufacture and generates significant quantities of waste water.

4. Much of the textile sector is based in the developing world and is often responsible for substandard working conditions and child labor.

For these reasons, a cradle-to-grave approach is essential when considering sustainable fabrics and fibers for a commercial interior.

Choose Natural Fibers

For your sustainable design projects, it’s best to use natural fibers derived from plants or animals when possible. These include cotton, linen, wool, alpaca, mohair, cashmere, or silk. Avoid man-made fibers and those derived from chemical processing, such as nylon, viscose, acrylic, polyester and polyethylene. Recycled nylon and polyester, however, are considered sustainable textiles.

Natural fibers are intrinsically biodegradable and durable and work well as curtains, upholstery and bedding. They are easier to clean, good at absorbing sound, and resistant to static electricity; some, such as wool, will pass fire-retardant regulations without any chemical treatment. Many natural fibers are effective insulators as well.

But beware; these so-called “natural” fibers are not always what they seem. The industrial processing of some fibers can also involve harsh chemicals, and animals often receive chemical treatments for parasites and graze on pastures that may have been sprayed with pesticides. These concerns should be addressed with your supplier.

Eco-Fabrics include:

Organic Linen
Organic Linen is made from 100% natural flax, which requires less water to grow than cotton. It also dries quickly, offers UV protection, and has natural anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.

Organic Cotton
Unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton is grown without chemicals. Organic Fair Trade-certified cotton guarantees the crop has been cultivated and processed using environmentally friendly practices and that the farmer has received a minimum price.

Recycled/Reclaimed Cotton
These fabrics are made from recovered cotton that would otherwise be diverted to a landfill. The discarded textiles are shredded and processed into yarns and fabrics, and are often blended with other fibers.

Hemp is fast-growing and produces greater yields than other crops. It is naturally resistant to fungus and insects and and leaves the soil in good condition. Hemp is mixed with other fibers, such as organic cotton, to produce hard-wearing textiles that retain color well and it’s naturally resistant to mold and ultraviolet light.

Bamboo Textiles
Bamboo is faster growing and hardier than cotton. Bamboo fabric is very soft, highly breathable and highly absorbent, making it popular for sheets, towels and bathmats. Make sure the bamboo fabric you select has a label from an organic or sustainable certification body, which guarantees it is sourced from well-managed forests and hasn’t destroyed habitat or endangered animal species and that it is processed mechanically, rather than chemically.

Tencel® /Lyocell
Tencel (the generic name is lyocell) is regenerated from wood cellulose obtained from eucalyptus trees that are grown on low grade land—no old growth forests, genetic manipulation, irrigation, nor pesticides are used. These eucalyptus forests and the pulp produced for Tencel have earned Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification that ensures the products come from socially and environmentally responsible forests.

Recycled Nylon and Polyester
Recycled nylon comes from post-industrial waste fiber and yarn that’s processed into reusable nylon fiber. Recycled polyester is manufactured from previously used polyester items such as used polyester clothing or PET bottles. The benefits of both are derived from the reduced energy needed to produce them, the reduced dependence on oil and the diversion of waste from landfills.


Green_Squared_Certified_by_ULE_RGB_greenYou can depend on GIO for your sustainable design projects because many of our products are Green Squared certified. Green Squared provides all tile producers, foreign and domestic, with a clear benchmark for designing sustainable products which can be accepted by North American green building programs.

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