“Other [advancements] have to do with improved sustainability of finishes,” says Molly Alspaugh, interior designer for ESa. “Manufacturers are making changes to make their products more sustainable, have a longer life-cycle, be better on maintenance, and get away from chemicals and products that are being shown to be harmful to human health.”
This marriage of high-performance and sustainability is a recent one, according to Ronan, and is being driven by growing market demand.
“Historically those things were antithetical—if you wanted high performance you couldn’t have a low environmental impact, and if you wanted a low environmental impact, it couldn’t be high performance,” he says. “The market is basically now saying, ‘That’s not good enough, we want it all.’ That is challenging us here at CF Stinson, and the industry as a whole, to get more creative, more innovative, and try to deliver solutions that maintain and even increase the level of performance, but do so at the lowest level of environmental impact that we can possibly achieve.”
Part of reducing that impact has been the removal of harmful chemicals and elements like antimony (a toxic finish ingredient that has been used in bromine-containing fire retardants), perfluorinated compounds (used in stain and water repellants) and heavy metals, such as cadmium and hexavalent chromium (used in pigment processes). But the use of recycled material has also become more common as the availability of 100 percent post-consumer recycled polyester fibers and yarns has increased.
“As recently as 4-5 years ago, those types of fibers and yarns had very limited availability, and now they’re pretty widely available,” explains Ronan. “We can use that platform for a lot of these high-performance fabrics, and we can apply a lot of the types of treatments and features to that so that right off the bat we have a lower environmental impact than we would if we were working with virgin fibers.”
The good news is that as the healthcare industry continues to raise its expectations, textile manufacturers will continue to push the bounds of science and technology to meet those needs. That’s a win for patients, staff and designers alike.
“We’re looking for ways to make the fabric softer, for ways to make the fabric more resistant to staining and more cleanable, and for ways to increase the UV performance and fade-resistant performance of the fabrics. All the while, we’re looking for ways to continuously reduce the environmental impact of the product,” Ronan says.
“Certainly any of us would love to come up with the next revolutionary innovation,” he adds. ”I think all of us in the contract textiles arena are working very hard to deliver products that more strongly meet these requirements.”
Kylie Wroblaski is a former editor for BUILDINGS magazine, and has written previously about architecture and facilities management.