“Green” Fabrics are Often Really Grey


Cotton, organic cotton and wool are all “natural fibers,” but does that make them green? Check out this detailed document that lists estimated energy and water usage for some common natural and synthetic fibers. synthetic-fabric-vs-natural-fabric.

I’m hoping to find the same data on wool, bamboo, and PLA, but even the cotton data is pretty surprising. Plus one of the largest footprints a garment will have in its life is the energy impact of washing and drying. Polyester and Polypropylene do not stain and dry almost immediately, so they require much less laundering and do not need to be dried. And polyester garments last for many, many years of hard use where others tend to wear out faster (in part due to heavy laundering).

There’s a place for every type of fiber (and sometimes nothing feels better than cotton), but just because polyester is oil based does not make it less green when you look at the whole picture (remember the ethanol hype). For full disclosure, I work with Polartec® which mainly uses polyester fibers, including an increasing amount of recycled-content polyester that saves significant energy compared to virgin polyester.


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3 Responses to ““Green” Fabrics are Often Really Grey”

  1. Peaceful Disorder Says:

    I know from first hand that organic cotton clothing is a great way to naturally alleviate some skin conditions.

    That is an easy call since conventional methods of cotton production use such harsh chemicals.

    I have heard some varying numbers on the amount, but everyone agrees the chemicals just are bad for the earth and us.

    “Traditional cotton production also attributes to 25% of worldwide insecticide use and 10% of worldwide pesticide use.”


  2. Nate Simmons Says:

    Thanks for your feedback. We agree that is very important to ensure that fabrics are also safe next to skin. All Polartec fabrics are Oeko-Tex 100 certified, meaning they are certified not to contain anything harmful to human health. We are also working closely with bluesign to audit our manufacturing process to use best environmental practices when manufacturing our fabrics. And of course, our “greenest” policy may be that we build fabrics that last. Without a doubt many of our original Polartec fabrics are still in service in the form of the original Patagonia Synchilla jacket that hit the market in 1981.

  3. John Otsuki Says:

    Terrific presentation of data. We are constantly examining the “hidden” impacts of products and their component materials. This kind of delivery is fair, non-judgemental and allows the consumers to make better informed decisions.

    I would like to see the bibliography that is referenced in the document. Please contact me with that info.

    There are alternative solutions to some of the impact issues mentioned in the article which I encourge the author to look into. But, I am sure that is subject for another article alltogether.

    John Otsuki

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