Sustainability of silk: what does the concept of sustainability actually mean within the textile world? Can silk be considered a sustainable fiber?


By sustainability, and / or sustainable development, we mean those conditions for which "a development system is in full balance and able to guarantee the satisfaction of the needs of current generations, without compromising its full feasibility by future generations"


1972: the concepts of "sustainability" and "sustainable development" were introduced for the first time at the UN Conference

1982: according to the Brundtland Report, a clear and unambiguous definition of sustainable development was established

1992: the principle of sustainable development was formalized into guidelines on the occasion of the United Nations Conference on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro

2002: in the Johannesburg Conference took place the configuration of sustainable development based on three mutually dependent factors:

  • environmental protection
  • economic growth
  • social development.

The concept of sustainability was therefore born from a paradigm focused only on ecological aspects and has, over the years, transformed into a dynamic concept taking into account environmental, economic and social variables which, acting synergistically, define the level of satisfaction but even that of complexity.


The silk fiber in general, and even more when compared and analyzed with other natural and / or artificial fibers, fully responds to the increasingly stringent requests for a resource compatible with sustainable development.


Ecology and naturalness of raw materials and their production system, circularity of resources:

  • Silkworms feed only on nature represented by the leaves of the Mulberry tree or other leaves of specific types of plants
  • Mulberry plantations guarantee and encourage the maintenance of the original natural ecosystem
  • Mulberry plantations raise the biodiversity level of the ecosystem; Mulberry plantations allow a respectful exploitation of the territory especially when compared with other textile crops (e.g., cotton), or non-textile crops (e.g., cereals), which use enormous quantities of resources (water)
  • Mulberry plantations cannot be sprayed with fertilizers and pesticides as it is scientifically proven that the use of chemical agents causes an exponential fall, (if not death), in the yield of the cocoons reared for the production of the silk filament.

Sericulture represents a perfect system of circular economy as a certificate and set as an example by the first UN international conference on Agroecology.

The processes on silk fiber have a very low environmental impact in terms of emissions into the atmosphere:

  • The fiber maintains its naturalness throughout its processing
  • During its life, silk does not release polluting substances and avoids the enormous and currently unsolvable problem of pollution from plastic micro-fibers characteristic of synthetic fibers.
  • The silk fiber, being the combination of two natural proteins, leaves no residue in the environment at the end of the product's life
  • The silk fiber is 100% recyclable and reusable


  • Sericulture has been a source of livelihood for millennia and in many cases a positive commercial driving force for many modern economies (not least Italy until the early decades of the last century)
  • Sericulture guarantees full use of the material produced by minimizing (eliminating) possible waste thanks to reuse
  • The breeding of silkworms, carried out mostly in rural agricultural environments, represents a significant source of supplementary income for many families engaged in other activities, especially agricultural
  • The average levels of earnings, even if producers are often fragmented, are considerably higher (per unit of time) than the ones possible from other crops and / or crops or activities
  • The current silk production system feeds a considerable number of production, commercial and distribution entities of the textile system
  • The use of the protein components of silk feeds alternative research, cosmetic, medical and biomedical sectors, guaranteeing high added values
  • The silk system is an efficient and effective circular economy that can make it possible to exploit significant economies of scale


  • The activity linked to the production of silk runs through and accompanies the entire history of man, becoming an integral part of culture and society in some economies
  • The combination of the agricultural system and the first production of silk involves a myriad of subjects focused by tradition, culture and economic convenience, on respecting resources with a vision of maximization and their full recovery
  • The maintenance of resources and the care of the environmental ecosystem typical of sericulture, linked to correct economic returns, positively stimulates dynamics of social involvement and personal interrelation
  • United Nations pilot projects have selected sericulture as an economic activity capable of supporting policies aimed at replacing harmful crops (e.g., opium in Burma), encouraging environmental and social improvement through suitable economic returns
  • Silk is part of our Italian history. It has influenced the culture, traditions and customs of many areas of our peninsula and characterized elements of our society
  • Silk is part of a world history, while China keeps playing a fundamental part and being a source of discoveries and updates on its role in history
  • Silk is an active presence in modern society both from the point of view of traditional textile use and from an evocative point of view. Consider, for example, the use of the name "The Silk Road" to identify the Chinese communications infrastructure program in Asia and Europe

Con il contributo di

Regione Lombardia