It is difficult to keep track of all the certifications and initiatives available to make better purchasing decisions. We have created a list of the most important eco certifications and explained what they mean.

There is a growing lack of simple truths in times of abundance. Consider the many certificates, organizations, and initiatives that have appeared in sustainability over the past few years. There are certifications for product safety, sustainable production, animal welfare, recycling, and meta-certificates which combine several. These certificates can be obtained at different levels. The certificates’ criteria lists change regularly and are updated to reflect the most recent findings.

The rule of thumb is that the more stringent the certification criteria, then the better. Is this true? Critics claim that only a small number of companies will accept these guidelines and that it is therefore necessary to have guidelines that are more flexible but also more universally applicable. This would make the overall system more efficient. Anyone who violates any criteria should be expelled immediately. That sounds great at first. There is no easy answer. Does it make sense to immediately exclude misconduct or do we need to work together towards improvement? Here’s a list with current criteria catalogs of seven important fashion eco-certifications.

woman peeking over green leaf plant taken at daytime

1. GOTS: Global Organic Textile Standard

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), one of the most well-known textile standards, is the world leader in processing textiles made with organically produced natural fibers. Globally, there were more GOTS-certified facilities in 2020 than ever before. This is a 34 percent increase over 2019.

GOTS is applicable to all natural fibres, not just cotton as initially thought. It covers all aspects of textile production, including packaging, labelling and trading.

The standard published version 6.0 of its criteria catalog in March 2020. The standard also tightened social requirements for textile producers. There are new options for permitted blends of fibres. In a defined mix ratio, regenerated fibres (synthetically produced fibres made from regenerative raw material like wood) can now be added to the material. For recycled polyester, the maximum percentage is 10% and 30% respectively.

There are two GOTS labels-grades. Textile products can receive the GOTS Label in principle if they contain at least 70% organic fibres. This label states “Made with x% organic fibres”. Specifications are provided for organic farming and organic animal husbandry.

A product that contains at least 95 percent organic fibres may be labeled “organic” by GOTS without the need to specify a percentage.

2. The Green Button is a state-run standard for textiles

The Green Button was the first state-run sustainability label in textile production. It was introduced by the German government in 2019. The label is a “metastandard” that complements existing eco labels. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development must have recognized at least one of the 11 reference certifications for the Green Button. Blue Angel, Fairtrade and Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), Oeko-Tex Made in Green (Bluesign), Cradle-to-Cradle Silver (GOTS), Global Recycled Standard, (GRS), Naturtextil IVN Certified BEST, SA 8000, and, as of February 2021, the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Produce (WRAP), certification have been approved. Other ecological certifications are required if a standard covers only social aspects such as Fair Wear Foundation.

The Green Button’s concept is that it only awards one certification. This allows for a better overview of the company to consumers. It is currently used by 64 companies (as of April 2021), such as Jack Wolfskin and Vaude, according to the website.

The Green Button cannot be awarded to a company or product that meet a comprehensive criteria list. This means that there are 20 criteria at company level, and 26 at product level. The Green Button will not cover all of the supply chain in the initial phase, which runs until mid-2021. It only covers the production stages of “cutting, sewing” and “bleaching, dyeing”. The Green Button will eventually be extended to include other steps of the textile chain in the future.

3. Bluesign Product: focus on textile chemistry

Bluesign Technologies AG was established in Switzerland in 2000. Its roots are in textile chemistry. Bluesign Technologies AG developed the integrated “Bluesign System” which is based on the principle and management of input streams. It eliminates harmful chemicals from the manufacturing process from the beginning and can therefore ensure sustainable production. This ensures that the final product meets all international consumer protection standards. Bluesign takes into account all effects on the environment, people and resources. Bluesign aims to reduce the ecological footprint throughout the value chain.

To certify the production of chemical products, textile components, and accessories, companies must pass strict inspections. Bluesign Approved products are those that have been certified by Bluesign. Bluesign components may be certified to give a product the “Bluesign Product” label. Bluesign is not limited to specific types of raw materials or fibres, nor to particular production steps for certain textile products.

To be eligible to wear the Bluesign Product Label, at least 90% of a textile product must have been Bluesign-certified. This includes the garment’s inner and outer layers, as well as all printed materials. Bluesign-certified ingredients must also contain at least 30% of all components, such as buttons, zippers, and embroidery. Bluesign standards for consumer protection require that the remaining ten percent of textiles, and the remaining 70 percent of ingredients, must be Bluesign-certified.

4. Fair Wear Foundation: Learning initiative to improve working conditions

The Fair Wear Foundation was established in Amsterdam in 1999. It is a multi-stakeholder organization. Its goal is to improve working conditions in the global garment sector. It focuses on the labour-intensive stage of ready to wear clothing production, where fabrics are sewn together for final textile products. Fair Wear’s core is the Code of Labour Practices, which is based upon international standards.

When it comes to fair wear, one thing is certain: lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. It is still difficult to get 100 percent fair clothing. Fair Wear’s process-oriented approach is focused on practical steps brands can take to avoid problems in factories. Accordingly, the organisation does not issue certificates. Those interested in Fair Wear can become members only. After that, they will be able to advertise using the Fair Wear logo. A member can be any brand that supports the principles and implements them. Fair Wear views itself in this way as a learning initiative.

Permanent membership is dependent on how well a member implements Code. Members who fail to meet basic requirements or don’t remedy any deficiencies within a specified time period lose their permanent membership. Those who are committed to the organization can be promoted as leaders. The website contains all brands and audit results.

5. The Responsible Down Standard: Down and Animal Welfare

In 2014, the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), was established. It is one of the most popular down standards in the garment industry. The Textile Exchange was the original initiator of the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). It is now responsible to award the standard and continue its development. This standard focuses on animal welfare only and aims to ensure that down-producing ducks and geese are maintained in compliance with various animal welfare criteria.

Only dead animals can be used to obtain the down. Live plucking is forbidden. Animals must be kept in conditions that are free from animal suffering. Force-feeding is not allowed, especially in countries that allow for stuffing for fattening. The 2019 revision requires that animals be stunned before being slaughtered. The inspection must now include the breeding farms, where the parents animals are kept. These farms are important because they have a longer lifespan and are at risk of being killed by live plucking. The label can only be used on products that contain 100% RDS downs.

A RDS certificate is valid 14 months. It is checked within that time frame by unannounced and announced inspections. Online access to the full specifications and claims is possible. Over 900 farms, large and small, with more than 500 million animals worldwide have been certified.

6. The Responsible Wool Standard is an animal welfare standard that applies to sheep farming.

The Textile Exchange launched the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), in 2016. It was initiated by H&.M. and the non-profit organization Textile Exchange. The certificate certifies that the sheep are treated with respect and care. It does not mention any further processing. This standard addresses many areas with a focus upon animal welfare, sustainable management, soil protection and complete transparency in the supply chain with an integrated method of traceability. The standard, which covers animal welfare, prohibits controversial practices like mulesing.

The RWS covers all aspects of the value chain, from farms to wool producers and garment factory factories. It’s not about the processing of the wool further down the value chain, but traceability.

7. Global Recycle Standard: Transparency for Recycle Materials

Global Recycle Standard (GRS), a product standard, regulates the composition of products made with recycled materials. Its purpose is to increase the percentage of recycled content in products as well as to make composition more transparent. Since 2011, the Textile Exchange is the new owner of the standard.

GRS verifies the composition and traceability of recycled materials. The GRS also establishes production requirements to minimize their negative impact on the environment and people. Every stage of production must have a certificate, beginning with the recycling stage and ending at the last seller in any business-to-business transaction.

End products, such as textiles for the home or garments, may only be considered if at least 20% of them are made from recycled materials.

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