We’ve already outlined what TENCEL and Lenzing are in a previous guide.
In the guide below though, we outline how eco friendly or sustainable these fibres might be.
This information may be considered for sustainability based choices to do with fibres, fabrics, clothing and textile products.
Summary – How Sustainable & Eco Friendly Are TENCEL & Lenzing?
Firstly, What Are TENCEL & Lenzing?
As a quick summary, TENCEL is one of Lenzing’s several fiber brands, and TENCEL is Lenzing’s flagship fiber brand for textiles.
In the guide below, we have focussed on TENCEL specifically (But, you can read more about other fiber brands by Lenzing, such as LENZING, ECOVERO, & VEOCEL, in this guide.)
There’s variations of TENCEL fibers, but the main fibers are TENCEL Lyocell, TENCEL Lyocell Filament, and TENCEL Modal.
This bring us to a point worth making …
Lyocell vs TENCEL
Lyocell made using the general lyocell process, is different to TENCEL Lyocell made by the TENCEL fiber brand.
So, How Sustainable & Eco Friendly Are TENCEL & Lenzing?
For the purposes of this guide, we will mainly discuss Lenzing’s TENCEL brand (as opposed to the other Lenzing fiber brands).
There’s various reasons for this, with just a few of the main ones being the they are sourced from natural and renewable cellulose, use a closed loop solvent spinning process, and are biodegradable and compostable (under certain conditions).
We outline a summary of the other reasons in the guide below.
What About The Eco Friendliness & Sustainability Of Other Fibres & Fabrics?
Other Factors That Might Impact The Sustainability Or Eco Friendliness Of Fibres
The above summary and the information found in this guide is a generalisation only.
The Lenzing and TENCEL websites should be cross checked against the information available from other individual fibre manufacturers/producers for a detailed and ‘like for like’ sustainability comparison.
What Makes Lenzing & TENCEL Eco Friendly & Sustainable?
TENCEL Fibers Specifically
A few of the main reasons may include (that may apply to either the Lyocell or Modal fiber, or both):
– Lenzing fibers are sourced from wood cellulose, which is a natural and renewable resource
– The wood comes from certified and controlled sustainable forests
– The pulp Lenzing procures comes from sustainable, certified production plants
– Pulp and fiber production uses closed cycles (closed loop processes) for chemicals, water and energy. Used process water is purified in efficient wastewater treatment plants, and in some instances, solvents are captured and re-used.
From businessinsider.com.au: ‘Tencel is … produced on a “closed loop system,” in which “99% of the chemicals and solvents used in the process to break down the wood pulp are recovered and recycled with minimal waste and very low emissions’
– From the TENCEL website: ‘Integration of dyeing in the production process … leads to energy and water savings of up to 50 percent. Moreover, the CO2 footprint is about 60 percent lower compared to conventionally dyed fabrics.’
Read more about the other sustainability features of TENCEL in this guide.
TENCEL’s Processes, & Lenzing As A Group
Other general sustainability features of Lenzing as a group for their range of fiber brands include but aren’t limited to:
– Lenzing fibers in general use wood cellulose from trees, which is natural and renewable. life.ca mentions that ‘Lenzing Viscose® and Lenzing Modal® are produced from sustainably harvested beech trees and Tencel® from sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees’
– A circular fiber lifecycle that ends in a compostable and biodegradable fiber that can organically break down into the soil that it came from (under a range of conditions)
– A biorefinery concept where unused wood material can be turned into energy and other co-products
– Transparency. Lenzing makes a lot information on their processes and supply/production available publicly on their website
– Traceability. Lenzing has tracking and traceability in their supply via blockchain technology
– Certifications. Lenzing has achieved certifications from a number of third party certifiers
– External recognition. Lenzing has achieved a number of external awards and positive ratings from various groups for their products
TENCEL & Lenzing Compared To Other Fibres
TENCEL Compared To Cotton Specifically
Overall, compared to regular cotton, TENCEL …
– May use less water (particularly irrigated water at the farming stage, but also possibly at the processing stage)
– May not use as much pesticide or fertilizer
– May not need as much high quality farmland to grow trees for wood cellulose.
Read more about this sustainability comparison of TENCEL to cotton in this guide.
However, businessinsider.com.au notes that TENCEL may have some current drawbacks compared to cotton:
… it’s “difficult to be definitive” when calling Tencel more sustainable than cotton, especially because Tencel production is “an extremely minuscule fraction” of cotton production today. And more research needs to be done through the conversion and dying processes. Despite the award-winning closed loop system, these steps can’t avoid harsh chemicals
… TENCEL [may find a niche for itself in the market amongst consumers], but it has a long way to go towards actually replacing cotton
TENCEL Compared To Organic Cotton
From businessinsider.com.au: There’s also little difference in sustainability between Tencel and organic cotton in the long run
TENCEL Lyocell Compared To Viscose
Lenzing’s own viscose process has been developed to be more eco friendly than the average viscose rayon process produced fibre.
TENCEL Lyocell Compared To General Lyocell
Lyocell in general as a fibre can have different fibre manufacturers/producers around the world.
When you consider that not every lyocell fibre producer/manufacturer uses the same processes and methods of fibre sourcing and production, it makes sense that each type of lyocell will have a different sustainability footprint.
Depending on who manufacturers the Lyocell fibre product, it may or may not be eco friendly and sustainable.
TENCEL Lyocell brand fiber products though may have a transparency with how they are sourced and produced (via the information available on them) that other lyocell fibres from other manufacturers/producers may not have.
To get a direct comparison between two lyocell fibre products, the sourcing and production processes and practices of the producing company would have to be compared.
How TENCEL & Lenzing Compare To Other Fibres In Terms Of Sustainability & Eco Friendliness
Lyocell and TENCEL are seen as a few of the more eco friendly ones.
businessinsider.com.au also mentions this generally about TENCEL: ‘Tencel is … more environmentally-friendly than other fabrics’
Potential Drawbacks & Practical Limitations With TENCEL & Lenzing
Potential drawbacks and practical limitations might be:
– There’s specific technology, capital and processes required to produce the fibers, which could impact future growth
– Cost to produce fibers for producers might be comparatively higher than some other fibres
– Price of TENCEL and Lenzing fibers for consumers may be higher compared to other fibres (and this may especially be the case when marketing is taken into account, considering that newer fibres may not have the consumer awareness of traditional fibres)
– TENCEL and Lenzing fibers may not currently receive the subsidy support that other fibres like cotton might in some countries at the moment
– Some sources question the standards wood cutters are held to at tree farms the produce wood cellulose
From businessinsider.com.au: ‘… wood pulp is often sourced from forests underneath an umbrella environmental organisation which doesn’t hold cutters to very high standards.’
However, on the TENCEL site, they may have information about forestry certifications and standards that runs contrary to this.
– Although the production process uses closed loop manufacturing (where inputs are captured, and re-used or treated), the process still does use solvents
– Lenzing are a fibre producer and supplier only. Beyond the production of the fibre, there’s also other stages that need to be taken into account when assessing the sustainability of Lenzing fibers, if those Lenzing fibers are to become a fabric or finished textile product. Oecotextiles makes a point similar to this about the weaving stage after Lenzing has supplied their fibres to a fabric producer
How Much Water TENCEL Uses During Growing & Production
TENCEL uses water presumably for their forests to grow trees, but also during processing (during pulp production and fiber processing).
It appears TENCEL uses less water than some other fibres like cotton from growing to production according to some sources.
TENCEL also re-uses water during processing using closed loop production.
[it is estimated] 100 times more water is required to produce cotton fibre than Tencel (including growing, harvest and production) (abch.world)
… cotton, especially industrially farmed to satisfy global demand, uses up to 20 times more water [than TENCEL]
Tencel is also made from eucalyptus trees, which don’t require … irrigation
… compared to conventionally dyed fabrics, up to 50% of … water can be saved [with TENCEL Modal Fibres] (tencel.com)
The processing stage for TENCEL fibre recycles and recaptures waste water to use it again.
Carbon Footprint, & Energy Footprint of TENCEL
TENCEL Modal’s carbon and energy footprints may be lower than some conventional fabrics.
The trees used for the cellulose may also have carbon sequestration benefits.
TENCEL Modal Energy & Carbon Footprints Specifically
… compared to conventionally dyed fabrics, up to 50% of energy … can be saved, [and there can be] 60% less [of a] carbon footprint [for TENCEL Modal Fibres] (tencel.com)
Wood Fibres In General
Lenzing uses wood cellulose from trees to make it’s fiber products.
[Studies show that] natural fibers [like hardwood] use less total energy and have a smaller carbon footprint than synthetic fibers (oecotextiles.wordpress.com)
It’s also worth noting that the trees used for cellulose by Lenzing/TENCEL sequester carbon whilst they are growing, in addition to producing oxygen.
How Much Pesticide TENCEL Might Use
TENCEL is … made from eucalyptus trees, which don’t require pesticides (businessinsider.com.au)
How Much Fertilizer TENCEL Might Use
… Tencel® [is produced from] sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees [and] Eucalyptus grows quickly and without … fertilizers (life.ca)
TENCEL & Land/Soil Health
We could not find information about land/soil degradation from TENCEL production.
Assuming the tree forests used are plantations, they may not be responsible for any land degradation associated with traditional deforestation.
However, it should also be mentioned that the compostable and biodegradable nature of Lenzing fibers mean that they may contribute to organic matter when they decompose, and therefore contribute to soil health.
The Yield Of TENCEL
Yield is one factor that can impact sustainability as it can relate to efficiently using resources for production.
In terms of land use comparative to cotton, TENCEL may rate favorably.
Acres Of Land, To Production, & Comparison To Cotton
Lenzing [who makes TENCEL in the US] says it can grow enough trees for a ton of Tencel on half an acre of forestland, likely unsuitable for farming.
Cotton needs up to five times as much of high quality farmland …
Speed Of Tree Growth
In terms of how long trees take to reach an age where they can be harvested, and presuming TENCEL uses eucalyptus trees:
… eucalyptus reaches maturity in seven years (ecofashionsewing.com)
TENCEL & Use Of GMOs
We could not find any information that suggested that TENCEL or Lenzing fibers use GMOs.
Biodegradability & Compostability Of TENCEL
Chemicals Used By TENCEL During The Processing Stage
TENCEL uses a closed loop process, which looks to capture and re-use solvents so they don’t cause as much environmental pollution as a fibre that uses open loop production might.
However, businessinsider.com.au mentions that the conversion and dying process still uses chemicals.
TENCEL Uses Closed Loop Process
From tencel.com though:
TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers use an environmentally responsible closed loop production process, which transforms wood pulp into cellulosic fibers with high resource efficiency and low ecological impact.
This solvent-spinning process recycles process water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%.
TENCEL™ Modal fibers [are eco friendly in the production process with the] use of renewable energy and by the recovery of process chemicals.
TENCEL Still Uses Solvents Though
businessinsider.com.au: ‘… more research needs to be done through the conversion and dying processes. Despite the [the] closed loop system, these steps can’t avoid harsh chemicals’
Impact Of Growing & Producing TENCEL On Humans and Human Health
The lack of pesticides used during growing may decrease impact of synthetic farming chemicals on farming workers.
Additionally, because Lenzing prioritises social criteria overall as a company, their production process might be safer for workers compared to some production processes where companies have no social criteria in place.
Impact Of TENCEL On The Environment, & Animals & Wildlife
The potential impact might be far less than a traditional cotton for example.
The lack of use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers into water sources means there is less impact on wildlife and animals, and the environment as a whole.
Also, during production, the closed loop process may reduce and sometimes eliminate pollution and negative impact on wildlife, and the environment
Production Of TENCEL
Production Total Of TENCEL
In 2014 … the Cotton Board estimated global production of TENCEL at just 243,000 tons – compared to 28.6 million for cotton (businessinsider.com.au)
Total Production Of All Fibres
You can read more about the most commonly produced fibres in the world in this guide, and see how TENCEL compares.
Cost Of TENCEL
Depending on what fibre TENCEL is compared to, and where it’s being sold, it might be one of the more expensive fibres available for consumers.
[TENCEL is more expensive for consumers because the technology required for production is expensive and this cost is passed onto customers]
[Companies also spend more marketing TENCEL as a brand]
… TENCEL can carry as much as a 50-to-100% premium over Egyptian cotton, one of the most pricey levels of cotton
What Other Sources Say About Lenzing & TENCEL
At least one other source indicates that Lenzing brand fibres and TENCEL in particular may be some of the more sustainable and eco friendly on the market.
[LENZING and TENCEL fibres are some of the more sustainable fibres available on the market] (elkieark.com)
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