What Makes a Material Sustainable?

Fabric stackWhether we are shopping for food, clothes, or household items, it doesn’t take long before we find a product that is advertised as “green.” Green products certainly sell, but the elements of what makes the product “green” aren’t always clearly defined. How do we know that what we are purchasing is as great for the Earth as it promises?


If we are looking to buy clothing, accessories, or products that are made with fabric, one way to tell if it’s “green” is the materials it is made with. A piece of clothing made with conventional cotton or leather is going to have a very different life than a piece of clothing made with hemp or organic plants. Some options will be more sustainable than others…but what goes into making a material “sustainable?”

Ability To Grow or Renew
Burning fossil fuels has been our main source of energy for centuries, but in the past few years we have discovered its true impact. In addition to the production of greenhouse gasses, burning fossil fuels isn’t sustainable because fossil fuels aren’t renewable. At some point, we will run out of coal and other fossil fuels…and then what? It is more sustainable to make the switch to solar or wind energy that will continue to fuel us for centuries to come.

The same idea applies to plants or animals that are being used to produced food or raw materials. At the rate that we are producing materials for food or clothing, when will we run out? What has to be done in order to keep up with growing demand?

This is why bamboo is becoming a top crop to grow. Bamboo grows very fast and provides a soft material for clothing.



What Is Used to Protect the Crop?
So you have a plant or material that is growing at a fast rate. But as the plant or animal is growing, it may face predators or risks. Farmers have come up with many solutions to save their crops and animals, including creating pesticides, but what affect do these measures have the on the environment?

This brings up the problems with conventional cotton. Cotton is grown all over the world to make clothing, but many of these environments aren’t suited for cotton growth. In addition to removing cotton from its natural habitat,

Instead, sustainable farmers have been turning to hemp for clothing. Hemp is a strong fiber and is generally pest-resistant. Hemp requires less water and produces more fiber than cotton or flax.



How It Interacts With the Surrounding Environment
Everything on the plant, from tomatoes to sheep to water bottles, will make an impact on the planet. Even plants that are grown in your backyard will have an effect on your soil and the potential to grow plants the next year. In this case, you aren’t drastically increasing your carbon footprint (growing food at home drastically reduces your carbon footprint,) but there are consequences to every action.

Plants, animals and other materials work together with their surrounding environment. Animals eat other animals, animals eat plants, plants interact and take up space next to other plants, etc. If these plants or animals are brought into and grown in an area that is unnatural, there may be negative consequences.

For example, raising cattle for food and clothing is of the top causes of deforestation in the world. Farmers need these forests for their cattle to graze before they are killed to make leather couches or juicy hamburgers. In addition, these cattle (and other animals raised to be eaten or used for raw materials) have to eat, too…and raising these crops creates a significant impact of their own. A plant-based product cuts out the need for a middleman.

The Most Sustainable Materials
Before you commit to a brand or an article of clothing, consider its environmental impact, before and after you use it. How many times has it been used? Can it be recycled after you are done? How long will the material last, and when will it need to be replaced?

The best materials for clothing are organically grown, plant-based materials that are pest-resistant and have the ability to grow fast. The material is extra “green” if it is grown locally and works to benefit the environment around it. This is why more and more clothing companies are turning to bamboo, hemp, and organic cotton for clothing. As always, a conscious, informed decision is the best decision for your life!

headshotMegan Okonsky is a writer, yogi, and traveler who enjoys being barefoot and doesn’t mind the term “granola.” She is the marketing director for Our Future Footprint, an apparel company that plants trees and donates to conservation and education initiatives for each purchase.




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About the author

Megan Okonsky

Megan Okonsky is a writer, yogi, and traveler who enjoys being barefoot and doesn’t mind the term “granola.” She is the marketing director for Our Future Footprint, an apparel company that plants trees and donates to conservation and education initiatives for each purchase.