How Sustainable Are EcoVero™ Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

How Sustainable Are EcoVero™ Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

Quynh Nguyen

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EcoVero™ is a relatively new viscose fabric, produced and trademarked by Lenzing AG since 2017. And Lenzing AG, as a company, is ranked in the top position of the Viscose Producer Performance report by the environmental nonprofit organization Canopy. Still, we had to ask: How sustainable are EcoVero™ fabrics?

EcoVero™ is one of the more sustainably-made viscose fabrics. The raw materials are sourced from sustainably managed forests and manufactured in a closed-loop process. In addition, EcoVero™ has approximately half the water impact and carbon emission of generic viscose.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of EcoVero™ fabrics used for clothes and bedding. Then, we evaluate its sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable products made with EcoVero™ fabrics.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of EcoVero™ Fabrics

EcoVero™ fabric is generally considered sustainable viscose fabric because of its relatively low-impact manufacturing process. Also, the company Lenzing AG only sources certified and controlled wood as raw materials for their EcoVero™ fabric. 

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

EcoVero™ is a type of viscose, a semi-synthetic fiber made in a chemical manufacturing process that breaks down natural cellulose fibers in wood and then regenerates fibers of desired properties. In the closed-loop manufacturing process of EcoVero™, more than 99% of chemicals are recovered and reused.

Viscose is one of three groups of rayon, divided by the changes in manufacturing technology. 

  • Viscose, or the 1st generation of rayon in which EcoVero™ belongs 
  • Modal, or the 2nd generation of rayon, 
  • Lyocell, or the 3rd generation of rayon, 

All three generations (viscose, modal, and lyocell) are made with cellulosic fibers regenerated during manufacturing

Regenerated cellulose fibers are similar to cotton, hemp, or linen in the sense that all of these fabrics contain cellulosic fibers. Still, the fibers in cotton, hemp, or linen are natural (instead of manufactured as in the case of viscose fibers, including EcoVero™). 

To understand the sustainability of EcoVero™ fabrics, we must assess their life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of EcoVero™ fabrics!

In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of clothes and bedding made with EcoVero™ fabrics. When applicable, we also look at cradle-to-gate assessments

The life-cycle stages of EcoVero™ fabricsEach stage’s sustainability
Sourcing of EcoVero™ fabricsThe sourcing stage for EcoVero™ fabrics is generally sustainable thanks to Lenzing AG – EcoVero™ ‘s manufacturer – and their commitment to sourcing certified wood from sustainably managed forests as the raw materials. 
Manufacturing of EcoVero™ fabricsManufacturing EcoVero™ fabrics is relatively sustainable and also more sustainable than manufacturing generic viscose fabrics. This is largely due to water usage and carbon dioxide emission reduction. 
Transporting of EcoVero™ fabricsTransporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of items made with EcoVero™ fabrics because of the emissions associated with transporting and delivering vehicles. EcoVero™ fabrics typically travel first from forests, where raw materials for EcoVero™ are grown, to processing factories, and then to sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
Usage of EcoVero™ fabricsThe usage of EcoVero™ fabrics tends to be not very sustainable because viscose clothing, in general, has relatively low durability. 
End-of-life of EcoVero™ fabricsThe end-of-life stage for EcoVero™ fabrics is generally sustainable because it is reusable, biodegradable, and compostable. 

Overall, we can say that EcoVero™ is one of the more sustainably-made viscose fabrics. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, like a cocktail dress, depends on more specific factors, including the sourcing of the wood, manufacturing processes, and the distance and mode of transportation. Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy EcoVero™ fabrics more sustainably. 

How Sustainable Is the Sourcing Raw Materials for EcoVero™ Fabrics

The sourcing stage for EcoVero™ fabrics is generally sustainable thanks to Lenzing AG – EcoVero™ ‘s manufacturer – and their commitment to sourcing certified wood from sustainably managed forests as the raw materials. 

What Raw Materials Are Used for EcoVero™ Fabrics

Cellulose fibers are the main material used for EcoVero™ fabrics. They are derived from wood, a renewable resource. 

(Synthetic chemicals are also used in making EcoVero™ fabrics, but we will discuss those agents in the manufacturing stage.)

How Do the Raw Materials Sourced for EcoVero™ Fabrics Impact the Environment

The main raw materials used in EcoVero™ fabrics come from the wood, which is largely renewable (sometimes at relatively quick replenish rates). Also, wood acts as a carbon storage thanks to the trees’ carbon sequestration.

  • Carbon sequestration: As trees grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen. They act as a carbon sink, taking greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere and helping to mitigate the climate crisis

Where Are the Raw Materials for EcoVero™ Fabrics Usually Sourced From

Lenzing commits to sourcing raw materials for EcoVeroTM from sustainably managed forests, including temperate forests in Europe, with either an FSC or a PEFC certification. 

However, the audit body from the non-profit environmental protection organization Canopy has raised concerns about Lenzing’s mill and pulp production in Brazil, which is planned to open in 2023. This new operation will increase the risk of sourcing wood from Ancient and Endangered Forests or other controversial sources for Lenzing’s products, including EcoVero™ fibers. 

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of EcoVero™ Fabrics

Manufacturing EcoVero™ fabrics is relatively sustainable and also more sustainable than manufacturing generic viscose fabrics. This is largely due to water usage and carbon dioxide emission reduction. 

How Sustainably Is EcoVero™ Fabrics Generally Manufactured

The typical viscose manufacturing process, which include EcoVero™, follows these five steps: 

  1. Prepare the wood pulp (harvesting wood, cutting it into penny-sized pieces, and grinding the pieces into a pulp)
  2. Wood pulp is first dissolved in caustic soda, then depolymerized and reacted with carbon disulfide to form cellulose xanthate, which is dissolved in once more time caustic soda
  3. Filter, degas, and age the viscose solution 
  4. Spin the solution in an acidic bath containing sulphuric acid, sodium sulfate, and zinc sulfate to regenerate the viscose cellulose in filament form 
  5. Wash, beach, finish, dry, and weave the yarn into viscose fabric 

Manufacturing viscose is generally energy-intensive. Using toxic chemicals like carbon disulfide, sulphuric acid, and caustic soda could potentially cause serious harm to the environment and workers.

Lenzing’s EcoVero™ is, however, manufactured more sustainably than generic viscose. The reasons are: 

  • The closed-loop production technology means toxic gases are not released into the environment. Nearly all of the chemicals are recovered, converted, and returned to the production process to be used as raw materials. 
  • The water impact is up to 50% lower thanks to a highly efficient usage rate and strict waste treatment standards. Water is cleaned up before returning to nature. 
  • Carbon emission of EcoVero™, cradle-to-production gate, is up to 50% lower than for the calculation for generic viscose (cradle-to-finished material gate) by Higg MSI (Materials Sustainability Index). 

However, manufacturing EcoVero™ still uses synthetic chemicals, making it less sustainable than Tencel™ Lyocell, which is Lenzing’s rayon fabric made with organic solvent (instead of artificial). 

Where Are EcoVero™ Fabrics Usually Manufactured

The first factory built for manufacturing EcoVero™ fibers is located in Austria, and the second is based in China. Though both factories use the same eco-responsible process for producing Lenzing-branded viscose fibers EcoVero™, the energy usage varies. 

According to Our World in Data, the share of renewable energy in primary energy in Austria is 37.48%. That is 2.5 times higher than the renewable energy share in, e.g., China (14.95%). 

Because manufacturing viscose fabrics is energy-intensive, using renewable energy (solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass) significantly reduces carbon emissions at this stage. 

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of EcoVero™ Fabrics

Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of items made with EcoVero™ fabrics because of the emissions associated with transporting and delivering vehicles. EcoVero™ fabrics typically travel first from forests, where raw materials for EcoVero™ are grown, to processing factories, and then to sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills. 

In the life-cycle of EcoVero™ clothes, transportation typical occurs as below: 

  • From forests where EcoVero™ raw materials are grown to the EcoVero™ pulp and fiber manufacturing locations
  • From the EcoVero™ fibers manufacturing location to the clothing manufacturing location 
  • From the clothing manufacturing location to sorting centers/physical shops 
  • From sorting centers/physical shops to the consumer’s house 
  • From the consumer’s house to the centers for recycling/ disposing

Traveling Distances of EcoVero™ Fabrics Vary 

It is uncommon for clothes to have raw materials grown, processed, sewn, and sold in one town, country, or even continent. 

Here are three in many transporting scenarios for EcoVero™ clothes: 

  • Wood is sourced from forests in Austria, then transported on rails to Lenzing’s factory (also) in Austria to be made into fibers, then shipped to clothing factories in the US to be turned into clothes and sold to US consumers.
  • Tropical wood is sourced from forests in Indonesia and transported to Lenzing’s China location for manufacturing EcoVero™ fibers. Once finished, EcoVero™ fibers are transported to factories in India and then to consumer markets in Europe or the US.
  • Wood is sourced from various certified sources, then shipped to a pulp and fiber factory in Austria. EcoVero™ fibers are then sent to China to be turned into clothes before selling to consumers worldwide. 

You can reduce the transporting carbon footprint by opting for the EcoVero™ fabrics that travel a shorter distance from the forests and are made closer to your home.

The Carbon Footprint of Transporting EcoVero™ Fabrics Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation 

During its life-cycle, a piece of EcoVero™ clothing can be transported using various types of vehicles, including: 

  • Large container ships 
  • Planes 
  • Freight trains 
  • Long-distance trucks 
  • Short-distance delivering vans 

And these various types of transportation vehicles have different carbon footprint impacts: 

For example, as a consumer, you can choose not to pick the fast delivery option when ordering EcoVero™ clothes to reduce the carbon footprint of your EcoVero™ items. 

How Sustainable Is the Usage of EcoVero™ Fabrics

The usage of EcoVero™ fabrics tends to be not very sustainable because viscose clothing, in general, has relatively low durability. 

Viscose is originally made as a more durable (and cheaper) alternative to silk. However, compared with fabrics like cotton, it doesn’t tend to last as long

Long-lasting clothing is generally more sustainable because you don’t need to replace it too frequently (thus, no need for more resources to make the new one). 

One advantage of viscose fabric (EcoVero™ fabric included) is its breathability. Clothes made with this fabric don’t start smelling too quickly, meaning fewer washes are needed. Because washing during the usage phase is one of the main sources of energy consumption in the life cycle of clothing, breathable fabrics tend to be more sustainable. 

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of EcoVero™ Fabrics

The end-of-life stage for EcoVero™ fabric is generally sustainable because it is reusable, biodegradable, and compostable. 

Viscose fabric (including EcoVero™ variety) is 100% cellulose, making it a biodegradable material. Thus, at the end of the fabric’s life, there are three available options: 

  • Composting
  • Incineration
  • Landfilling

It takes about three months for a t-shirt produced with EcoVero™ fibers to decompose, contrary to plastic-based items that could take up space in the landfill for up to 100 years.

As viscose fabric ( EcoVero™ included) breaks down, the chemicals used for its production are also released into the environment. That means that the compost will be contaminated. 

How Circular Are Products Made of EcoVero™ Fabrics

In the textile industry, a circular economy is designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, especially through reusing and recycling. It also covers regenerating natural systems that support the industry and reducing polluted waste released into such systems.

“The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

As a whole, the textile industry is almost linear: 97% of the input are new resource.

When it comes to regenerated cellulose fabrics, there have been incentives towards closed-loop manufacturing processes. 

Since 2000, new technologies have emerged to produce cellulose fibers to keep harmful toxins from being released into the environment. Such closed-loop systems have excellent control to minimize the emission of gases to the environment and recover the solvent carbon disulfide up to 90-95%. Later technologies also improve the recovery of other resources (water and energy) used in manufacturing.

EcoVero™ fabrics (as well as TENCEL™ fabrics) are made in a closed-loop manufacturing process that recycles water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%

How Can You Buy EcoVero™ Fabrics More Sustainably

EcoVero™ fibers have the following environmental and original certifications: 

  • Ecolabel: Ecolabel is the official European Union voluntary label recognized worldwide for certified products with a guaranteed, independently-verified low environmental impact. The label requires high environmental standards throughout the entire life-cycle: from raw material extraction through production and distribution to disposal. It also encourages companies to develop innovative, durable, easy-to-repair, and recyclable products.
  • Biodegradable/Compostable by TÜV Austria Belgium NV: This green mark signifies that the fabrics are biodegradable and compostable under industrial, home, soil, and marine conditions. Thus they can fully revert back to nature.
  • Forest Stewardship Council: An FSC certification ensures that the wood comes from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.
  • Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification: PEFC’s approaches to sustainable forest management are in line with protecting the forests globally and locally and making the certificate work for everyone. Getting a PEFC certification is strict enough to ensure the sustainable management of a forest is socially just, ecologically sound, and economically viable but attainable not only by big but small forest owners.

Furthermore, when buying clothes made with EcoVero™ fibers, you want to check if the clothes manufacturers have (some of) these key environmental and original certifications: 

  • STeP by OEKO-TEX®: STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system for brands, retailers, and manufacturers from the textile and leather industry. It communicates organizational environmental measures, including reducing carbon footprint and water usage.
  • B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts. 
  • Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.

Where to Buy Sustainable EcoVero™ Fabrics 

If you are curious about buying EcoVero™ clothes, here are some sustainable brands that use these fabrics (in alphabetic order): 

Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics

It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint 

The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide

One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber) – a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Demand For Natural Resources and Waste Management

The textile industry uses water and land to grow cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton t-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).

Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfill (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,

  • Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
  • In other words, more than 97% of resources used in making clothes are extracted new. 

When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time – under a year in the case of half of the fast fashion clothes – the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown. 

Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:

  • Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often. 
  • Thus, you help reduce to pressure to extract more resources for making new items. 

Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Sustainable Management of Forests

Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards

When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effect of climate change. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals 

The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like cashmere or leather. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.

Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives. 

Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, leather or wool; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry. 

Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers 

Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child labors worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours. 

When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.

Final Thoughts

EcoVero™ is a sustainably-made viscose fabric with a relatively lower water impact and carbon footprint. Also, the raw materials are sourced from sustainably managed forests. 

Still, the use of artificial chemicals makes EcoVero™ less sustainable than, for example, Tencel™ Lyocell – the third generation of rayon trademarked by Lenzing AG. 

To make it more sustainable, you should buy second-hand EcoVero™ clothes, use clothes for as long as possible, upcycle the material to extend its usage, and arrange for it to be recycled appropriately.

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