11 Eco Upholstery Textiles Revolutionizing the Global Market

Close up of 5 different textured fabrics

Courtesy of Knoll, Inc.

"High-tech" isn't what you'd normally think of when it comes to fabric, but in recent years, that's exactly what it has become. Innovation has brought about revolutionary new materials and processes, and one rapidly changing industry. The 11 textiles below are some of the greenest and smartest now available to the residential and contract furnishings market. Several different criteria go into making what can be called an eco textile, but seven basic questions you should ask are:

1. Is it recyclable?
2. Is it made of recyclable materials?
3. Is it easily biodegradable?
4. Is it produced using green manufacturing processes without harmful chemical byproducts?
5. Does it follow McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC)'s Cradle to Cradle principals?
6. Does the finished product off-gas harmful chemicals having a negative effect on indoor air quality?
7. Does the manufacturer have a company-wide sustainability policy?

1. Hardy Organic Hemp From O Ecotextiles

Seattle-based O Ecotextiles, which was named one of BuildingGreen’s 2008 Top-10 Green Building Products, is one of a select few companies out there completely dedicated to green fabric. Their mission statement sounds like a good plan to us: "O Ecotextiles wants to change the way textiles are made by proving that it's possible to produce luxurious, sensuous fabrics in ways that are non-toxic, ethical and sustainable."

Designed by Emily Todhunter, Hardy Organic Hemp is made of 100 percent long fiber hemp, sustainably harvested by independent farmers in Romania--a country that has farmed hemp for generations. Although hemp must be imported (and therefore has a bigger transport carbon footprint), it is particularly easy to grow in most climates and resistant to bugs. No pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, or synthetic fertilizers are used during farming, and the fabric is spun at a local facility without water or "chemicals inputs of any kind."

The fabric is then moved to an Italian dye house--one of only a few in the world qualified to produce a certified-organic dyed or finished fabric. Hardy Organic Hemp meets three different LEED criteria from the U.S. Green Building Council: indoor air quality, use of rapidly renewable resources, and innovation.

2. Abacus From Knoll Textiles

Furniture manufacturer Knoll has the reputation for being fairly eco-savvy--and these principals are also followed in its textile division, Knoll Textiles. Abacus upholstery for both furniture and panels looks like virgin wool, but is actually woven from 100 percent recycled polyester sourced from both post-consumer (soda bottles) and post-industrial materials (production scraps).

The company's environmental policy is also nothing to sneeze at: It is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative Energy & Climate Change Working Group and has trimmed carbon dioxide emissions by over 10 percent since 2006, with an investment of over a cool $2 million.

3. Climatex From Rohner Textil

Swiss manufacturer Rohner Textil addresses several different eco factors with Climatex, which carries the prestigious Cradle to Cradle certification from MBDC. The certification requires environmentally safe, healthy and recyclable materials, renewable energy resources during manufacture, responsible handling of water, among other criteria.

Made of mostly Ramie, a rapidly renewable tropical herbaceous perennial in the nettle family used some 4000 years ago in Egypt, Climatex Lifecycle is completely biodegradable--down to all of its chemical constituents. In addition, waste material is recycled during production.

The firm's newer product, Climatex LifeguardFR, is made out of wool and renewable beech wood, without harmful chemicals. The fact that it meets the stringent fire retardant requirements required for aircraft makes it particularly innovative, as this is something particularly hard to do without toxins.

Both Climatex Lifecycle and Climatex LifeguardFR have the highest Cradle to Cradle certification: Gold.

4. Ocean Collection from Oliveira Textiles

For whimsical eco textiles, look no further than Oliveira Textiles. The firm's debut Ocean Collection is made of sustainably harvested and rapidly renewable hemp, (like Ecotextiles, it is sourced from Romania), and organic cotton grown, harvested, and woven in Turkey. Check out our interview with founder Dawn Oliveira.

5. Hallingdal From Kvadrat

Danish firm Kvadrat is a major source for luxury textiles in the international market, and boasts a strict "environmental compendium (PDF)." Six of the firm's textiles are particularly green. The 70 percent new wool and 30 percent viscose Hallingdal by Nanna Ditzel, as well as Hacker and Molly, are stamped with the EU Flower designation, meaning manufacturing, chemical composition, and quality is checked by independent bodies in order to comply to strict ecological and performance criteria.

More interested in biodegradable? Flora, Kosmos, and Helix, all by Fanny Aronsen, are labeled "Good Green Buy" by the Bra Miljöval (or Falken), a Swedish eco label backed by the Swedish Society for Nature. This means contents can easily breakdown at the end of the product's lifecycle.

6. Sensuede

Billed as the "the first luxury faux suede that's eco friendly, enviro-conscious and earth-conscious,"
Sensuede is made entirely from recycled polyester fibers. The fibers come from both post-industrial and post-consumer sources, including PET soda and water bottles. Production does not include harmful solvents or toxic waste and the material is highly stain resistant (marks can be rubbed off with a brush or an eraser), making it long-lasting.

7. Mod Green Pod

All the gorgeous fabrics from Austin, Texas based-Mod Green Pod are made of 100 percent certified organic cotton grown in the United States. Geared towards the residential market, the firm also does all weaving and water-based printing locally, slashing its carbon footprint and keeping energy consumption low. Pigments, while imported from Germany, are non-toxic and comply with Global Organic Textile Standards, which ensures no dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde (wrinkle-free agents), PBDEs (flame retardants), or PFOA (i.e. Teflon/Scotchgard) off-gassing.