Unraveling the Threads: How We Disrupt Greenwashing in the Textile Industry & Empower Designers

Unraveling the Threads: How We Disrupt Greenwashing in the Textile Industry & Empower Designers

By Alexis Wagman

In commercial interiors, the pursuit of sustainable materials free of harmful substances like PVC and PFAS that promote a circular economy has become top-of-mind, reflecting the growing awareness of environmental concerns. According to Thinklab, Designers have 40x the specification power compared to the average consumer purchasing power, which makes this shift in priority compelling. Despite this push towards eco-conscious specification, a shadow lurks – the elusive marketing tactic known as greenwashing. In this bite-sized and to-the-point interview with Design Consultant, Palak Mistry, we dive into sustainable design, tackling head-on the nuances of greenwashing, and how designers can navigate this complex terrain. With an impassioned plea for sustainable choices in the specification process, Palak provides invaluable wisdom and actionable steps forward, urging our peers in the A+D industry to embrace a paradigm shift towards materials that enhance aesthetics and protect the delicate balance of our planet's health.

AW: I think it's fair to say that we all probably have an idea about what greenwashing is and maybe even have experienced it. But I'm curious, from a designer who has first-hand experience in guiding specifiers on this very topic, how would you define greenwashing?

PM: Greenwashing is where a company essentially positions itself in a way that it looks like they're selling environmentally friendly products. The sad reality is that usually when you do a deeper dive into the available information about those products, they usually are causing harm to the environment. It is a really unfortunate marketing tactic used to mislead consumers into making “sustainable” purchases that they feel good about, without being able to back up those claims. They accomplish this through the use of deceptive language, imagery, and symbols on their merchandise. 

Palak teaching a CEU she authored on PFAS

AW: It does seem frustrating, especially because you have entire teams strategizing on how to utilize this elusive messaging most effectively. What can designers do to avoid it? 

PM: I know sometimes as designers we are facing a time-drought so verifying things like this can feel overwhelming and definitely frustrating at times. Something I advise my clients to do to save time and effort is to look for third-party certifications on the materials they are specifying. When you verify that the products you are specifying are backed by third-party organizations it ensures that the materials going into your projects meet the highest environmental standards for contract interiors. I encourage design professionals to look for symbols that indicate Red List free or have a Declare label, are Cradle to Cradle (or C2C) Gold/Silver, SCS Indoor Advantage Gold, indicate contributing to LEED points and indicate the Living Product Challenge. These are just a few of the many examples of third-party certifications to look for when specifying that will give you the quickest and surest indications of genuine sustainability.

Palak in Carnegie’s Creative Studio doing design research to put together a curated samples package for a client project.

AW: Time is definitely of the essence in certain cases. If a designer was to find out a material being considered is from a company that is greenwashing, how should they advocate for more sustainable choices in the specification process?

PM: The first thing I think of is that I would ask designers to consider the long-term impact of the materials they are specifying. The power is in our hands—we have 40x the specification power compared to average consumer purchasing power. The impact that these materials have on the overall health of the environment is becoming more top of mind, but we need to try our best to recalibrate. We want to push for trends and aesthetics that have longevity and do not cycle out quickly which in turn causes more waste, ends up in landfills, and contaminates many local communities. As we implement healthier materials in our designs, we are not only encouraging the use of environmentally friendly products, we are championing the transformative potential of sustainable materials. Another element to consider is specifying materials that have take-back programs to ensure proper recycling of the material at the end of its life, promoting a more circular economy. By investing in biobased and eco-friendly finishes and products we can actively increase the positive impact of our designs as a whole. We cannot wait any longer to start making sustainability a priority—the time is now.

About the Author

Alexis Wagman is the Content Marketing Specialist at Carnegie. Passionate about what connects all of us, she seeks to leverage creative Marketing and design to communicate real stories.