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Sustainable material guide: Tencel vs Linen

February 13, 2019
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Over the last several years, one question we find echoed over and over by our clients is, which is the best green fabric? There are a lot of factors and circumstances that make one fabric greener or better than the other, but we decided (tongue firmly in cheek) the best way was to have an old-fashioned tournament.

We picked 8 of the best, so here we are at last, Green Story’s #FabricFaceoff . Over the next 3 weeks, we’ll pit 8 eco-fabrics against each other, to see which can truly claim the title of the best green fabric. It’s winner take all! The fabrics are Tencel, linen, rPET, bamboo, cork, recycled wool, organic cotton, and hemp. 

The rules of the competition

We broke it down into 5 categories, a mix of environmental issues, consumer and manufacturer needs and unique fabric qualities. Each category is scored on a 5 point scale with 5 being best.

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: Every fabric gives off CO2 from its production, but the best green materials strive to bring this to a minimum —some even to be CO2 negative (due to carbon sequestration).
  2. Water consumption: Fabrics can use up to 3,000 liters per 1 kg of material (!), so the less water needed, the higher green materials will score.
  3. Cost: Being green and buying green is the main goal. But we must also be realistic. You can’t spend all your budget on the material, and your customers will not spend their life savings on a t-shirt. So finding the right balance between being sustainable and affordable will make sure green materials are here to stay.
  4. Availability: Green materials are wonderful, but they must also be accessible. The possibility of local production, easy access to facilities offering these materials (and no long waiting lists), and brands offering these materials needs to be addressed.
  5. Other: Each material is unique and has different sustainable qualities. This category allows each material to bring its top additional assets to the table, to make for a fairer comparison.


Introducing the competitors for round 1: Tencel & Linen

Here are our first competitors, and it’s a tough one. Both darlings of the eco-fashion space.

Lenzing’s darling, Tencel has been an ecofabric of choice for a lot of up and coming eco-fashion designers. While it’s popularity is relatively new, it was invented by Lenzing AG in Germany about 40 years ago. Tencel is the brand name of lyocell. This material belongs to the cellulose family of fibers that comes from the pulp of trees and crops and is comparable to viscose and modal.

Linen is a more ancient material. A natural fiber made from flax plants. It is one of the oldest used materials and is mostly used in the summer months and hot climates as it’s lightweight, breathable and moisture-wicking. It’s also more ubiquitous than Tencel.

Here’s how they score.

1. CO2 Emissions:

Tencel was invented with sustainability in mind so production processes and facilities are designed for low CO2 emissions and energy use. Linen, while better than most conventional alternatives, still has an energy intensive fiber production, giving off slightly more CO2 emissions.

Our score: Tencel – 5 | Linen – 4
Winner: Tencel


2. Water Consumption:

Tencel’s production process has a revolutionary closed-loop system that is extremely water-efficient, being able to capture, recycle and reuse 99.5% of water and solvents. However, trees needed for pulp require a fair amount of water to grow. Linen comes in strong on this front as flax plants need very little water and overall beating Tencel water needs by 20%.

Our score: Tencel – 4 | Linen – 5
Winner: Linen


3. Cost:

Linen is pricier than most natural fibers as its more difficult to produce, requires more manual labour, and breaks apart quicker when weaved. Compared to other natural fibers, it’s often been dubbed a ‘luxury fabric’. Even with its higher price though, linen is still cheaper than Tencel. Tencel may be technologically advanced, but that also means higher prices.

Our score: Tencel – 4 | Linen – 5
Winner: Linen


4. Availability:

Having only been invented four decades ago, Tencel is still growing and is not as readily available as its competitor. However, Lenzing is establishing production sites in China, Indonesia and the United States (outside of its main plant in Austria). Linen has been around worldwide since the beginning of civilization (30,000 BC as per some records) and is a staple for many brands.

Our score: Tencel – 4 | Linen – 5
Winner: Linen


5. Other:

Linen production needs slightly less energy than Tencel and does not use chemicals in its yarn production stage. However, the sustainability of Tencel is better guaranteed than linen. While linen comes from many sources and its impact can vary, Lenzing guarantees Tencel is made from guaranteed sustainability harvested trees and has a closed-loop production process. That means that 99.5% of (non-toxic) chemicals used get recycled and reused which means practically no waste and no need for new solvents.

Tencel is also more versatile than linen, having a softer feel and wider variety of uses. It’s also better able to replicate a cotton- like material and is easier to care for as linen is wrinkle-prone and stiff. Tencel is also extremely strong (even when wet) and is more durable than linen.

Our score: Tencel – 4.5 | Linen – 3
Winner: Tencel


1st round winner:


This was really close as you’ll see from the score below. We went back and forth between the team on linen and Tencel. While linen beats Tencel in more categories, Tencel edged it through its design for sustainability and greater versatility. It’s now in the semi’s and will face the winner of tomorrow’s face off: bamboo or recycled PET.

Final score: Tencel – 20.5 | Linen – 20