Sustainability - Lavender Oriental Carpets


“Sustainability” is currently a vogue word. A product, process, activity or style is vaunted as sustainable. But what does this mean, especially as it relates to carpets?
A product or process is sustainable if it can be repeated into the future without producing cumulative ill effects on the environment, economy or peoples’ lives. So, how and to what degree are oriental rugs a sustainable good?
Let us first look at what goes into a rug. There are foundation materials, pile materials and processes involved in putting them all together. The more sustainable the individual components are, the more sustainable is the finished product. Handwork is always preferable to machine processes. Machines require power and that may come from the burning of fossil fuels, an unsustainable process. Hence, handspun thread for the foundation, requiring no fossil fuel in its creation, is a sustainable component. The same applies to the pile, be it wool, cotton or silk. Machine spinning produces a more regular product, but at a cost to the environment.
The materials may be raised naturally, without chemical fertilizers or other synthetic inputs, and these are more environmentally acceptable. The sheep may graze a natural field, the cotton can be grown without pesticides and the silkworms fed on natural mulberry leaves, raised without herbicides. Or they may not. The buildup of synthetic, possibly toxic, materials cannot be construed as sustainable.
Consider next the dyes. Excluding natural colored rugs, every rug, carpet, runner or trapping employs dyes to extend and enhance the tonal range. These dyes can be derived from natural plant and insect sources, or they can come from a chemical factory. Natural dyes are either gathered in the wild or cultivated. For example, madder is a weed, growing wild throughout the ‘rug belt’ and there are no inputs either in its raising or gathering. Indigo and cochineal are farmed commodities, but they do not rely on artificial energy or chemical inputs. In contrast, synthetic dyes (anilines) were derived from coal tar which was produced as a byproduct in the making of coke for steel production. Modern synthetics derive from petroleum. Either way, the environmental impact is significant, both as to energy used in their creation, the toxicity of the resulting product and the deleterious wastes formed in the application process. Not very sustainable.
The older the rug is, the less likely it will partake in unsustainable processes. Few rugs made before 1850 employed machine spun materials and synthetic dyes did not come into widespread use until the 1860’s. Really antique rugs are a truly sustainable product.

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