According to an international study on consumer attitudes towards textile materials and sustainability, 86% of consumers consider wood a sustainable textile raw material, more so than cotton. Still, only one third is familiar with wood-based apparel. Consumers think brand sustainability image is the single most important sign of a conscious buying decision.
The study was made in Finland, Sweden, Germany, France and the US in the spring of 2020 (description and full result summary below). Wood was found the most sustainable out of currently available textile raw materials. The highest sustainability rating over wood was given to emerging, waste-based raw materials. Nordic respondents were most pro wood; 90% of Finns and 91% of Swedes consider wood a sustainable textile raw material. Reasons for not finding wood-based textiles appealing were related to both environmental reasons and qualities of the textile material.
– When the Spinnova fibre is made of farmed wood, the raw material value chain is CO2 positive. This means the trees are a larger carbon sink than the lumbering, pulping and logistics combined emit. Therefore concerns over excessive lumbering and native forest use are mostly unnecessary, says Spinnova’s CEO and co-founder Janne Poranen.
According to the study, harmful chemicals are seen as the worst environmental problem of the textile industry; 64% considering this an issue. 60% also associated excessive water use a problem of the industry, followed by ocean microplastics, waste and CO2 emissions.
When asked what factors make up a sustainable image of a product, brand sustainability image got the most replies, 54%. Only 29% of respondents thought high price is a sign of sustainability. Environmental certificates were considered a indicator of sustainability by 48%.
– This supports the idea that brand owners should be as transparent as possible about their sustainability efforts and even the environmental impacts of individual products, Poranen suggests.
Despite the positive take on wood, only a third of all respondents had experience of wood-based textiles, although man-made cellulosic fibres have been around for decades. However, 55% did consider the idea of wood-based apparel appealing. When asked the same question regarding apparel made of plant-based waste, as much as 76% said they would find it an appealing choice. Surprisingly, only a third of respondents said textile materials affect their buying decisions.
There was a lot of country variance in the attitudes, for example towards crude oil as a textile raw material. Whereas 1% of Finns thought it’s a sustainable raw material, the corresponding proportion of Americans was 26%. Also, 65% of French respondents think cotton is a sustainable raw material, whereas only 29% of Finns think so.
The study, ”Consumer perceptions of the sustainability of the clothing industry and textile fibres”, was made as thesis work for the University of Jyväskylä by environmental management student Fia Husu. It was run as a digital survey by Norstat in Finland, Sweden, Germany, France and the United States. The sampling was over 300 responses per country, a total of 1,572 responses. The age sampling of the study was 15-40 years.