Oct 29 2018

Sustainable design: renewable material cork

Cork is a natural material with a broad spectrum of advantageous characteristics: fully recyclable, heat and sound insulating, water repellent, flame resistant, lightweight, flexible, and suitable for asthmatics and allergy sufferers. Widely used in pinboards and bottle corks, the flexible material is gaining importance among raw materials and is blossoming into an exceptional alternative material for architecture and design.

A great all-rounder for floorings, furniture, accessories and more

The natural material is no longer limited to use as pinboards in the study. It is also suitable as an insulation material, flooring, an item of furniture or as a home accessory in any room. It is already widely used to decorate homes in the form of cork-lid jars, candle holders, table lamps and vases – and even rugs.

“In our cork rugs we use a unique, patent-pending cork solution that is processed in a handloom,” explains designer Susana Godinho from the Portuguese rug label Sugo Cork Rugs. “The cork fabric is versatile and can be optimally combined in its natural form and colour with other sustainable materials such as wool, linen and cotton. This exceptional material combination, in conjunction with the weaving technique, provides a range of patterns and colours for the rug design. The result is a new, creative eco-concept and numerous benefits such as greater durability, thermal and acoustic properties, moisture protection and the minimisation of allergies.”

Cork is the material for the future, explains the Deutscher Kork-Verband e.V. (German Cork Association) on its website. It has already been used for thousands of years and is experiencing something of a renaissance today. Its properties make it unique, as does its excellent environmental footprint. When it comes to climate change, environmental conservation and sustainability, materials such as cork are more important than ever. They are no longer a trend but a prerequisite for sustainable design.

Montados – Portugal’s cork oak forests

Portugal is home to 34 per cent of the world’s cork oak forests according to APCOR, the Portuguese cork association. With 78 per cent (approx. 556,000 hectares), the biggest areas, called Montado, are located in just four regions in Portugal: Alentejo Central, Alentejo Litoral, Alto Alentejo and Lezíria do Tejo.

Cork is the bark of the cork oak. It is a 100%-natural plant tissue that consists of a hive of microscopic cells containing a gas identical to air and coated primarily with suberin and lignin, as APCOR explains on its website. These properties make cork a sustainable raw material that has no equal. 100% natural, 100% recyclable, water repellent, flame resistant, lightweight, flexible and renewable – these are just a few of the qualities that make this natural material stand out.

A cork oak can only be harvested for the first time after 25 to 40 years. Each time the cork is harvested, only a third of the bark may be taken; removing more can cause the tree to wither. Cork is harvested in July and August, the most active period of growth. Stimulated to grow more intensively by this harvesting, a new protective bark quickly forms. The cork oaks can be harvested every 9 to 12 years, and up to 16 times over the course of their productive lives.

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