Guide to Sustainable, Ethical and Circular certifications you can trust
Based on our last article on greenwashing, many of you asked if we would write an article about the most credible sustainable certifications. Day to day, we receive so much information that things can appear as clear as mud, and it can be so disheartening when you discover that sometimes your good intentions have been misled.
To help you avoid getting stuck in the mud, we have created this guide to fashion’s most rigorous certifications.
Selection of the most relevant and trustworthy sustainable certifications
Cradle to cradle
Cradle to cradle or C2C is a certification based on the concept of circular economy (one of our favourites). C2C strongly states that resources need to be in constant circulation, in contrast to the universally adopted take, make, waste, linear approach or cradle to grave. C2C certified products must rethink the chosen materials, their origin, how they are made, and where they are going next, so everything used can be a part of a future nutrient cycle; therefore, products that actually positively impact the environment.
C2C is an ongoing commitment to a continual improvement process for the brands to have been certified. There are different levels of certification, including bronze, silver, gold, and platinum, depending on the level of sustainability, social working standards, and adaptation to the all-encompassing circular processes in the entire production.
There is a caveat: C2C certification is a highly stringent and costly certification process. However, this hasn’t stopped smaller brands from adopting the circular economy and regenerative approach, even if they are not yet seeking to obtain the certification just yet. So if you see brands that say they follow the circular economy method, see how they usually align with the C2C concept. Brands that follow this philosophy are generally very transparent in communicating exactly how.
Global recycled standard (GRS)
GRS is a voluntary internationally recognised standard to verify recycled content of organisations outputs in regards to process and finished product and verify responsible social, environmental and chemical standards to minimise harmful environmental impacts. They track the chain of custody, including ginning, spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing, printing, and stitching in over 50 countries, using a third-party certification board.
The GRS’s objective is to increase the use of recycled materials in products while striving to eliminate and reduce the negative impacts caused by the production. GRS accredited products include:
- Recycled fibres in textile products.
- The content of recycled metal in metal products.
- The content of recycled plastic in plastic products.
They focus on aligning recycled definitions across multiple applications to provide consumers (both brands and end consumers) with a tool to make informed decisions. The verifications output includes 1) Verifying recycled material, 2) responsible production, 3) chain of custody, 4)credible certification, 5) confidence communication, 6)stakeholder engagement.
Doop, referred to as the last toothbrush you will ever buy, uses BPA Free, Recycled and recyclable FDA Approved Polypropylene in their product.
Ecocert for ecological and recycled textiles, certifies textiles that are made with organically grown materials according to organic content standards and fibres from renewable resources regulation no.1007/2011, from the European parliament and council. The criteria are related to the environment, the management of waste and discharges, and social aspects that apply to the whole entity looking to be certified.
This standard aims to guarantee the traceability and integrity of raw materials during all stages of manufacturing. It achieves this by standardising the minimum environmental and social requirements to define the ecological status, including the product’s design stages, raw material production, manufacturing up to completion, distribution, use, and end of life. Ecocert also provides agricultural training to help farms to more organic practices.
Benefit Corporation (Bcorp) is a legal tool used to develop a firm and long-term commitment to aligning mission and value creation. Traditional organisations are now transitioning to becoming B corps by modifying their processes and obligations through setting higher accountability, purpose and transparency standards. Companies who are B Corp Certified are committed to:
- Purpose: commit to creating public benefit and sustainable value in addition to generating profit. This sustainability is an integral part of their value proposition.
- Accountability: commit to considering the company’s impact on society and the environment in order to create long-term sustainable value for all stakeholders.
- Transparency: report, in most states annually and using a third party standard, to show their progress towards achieving social and environmental impact to their shareholders and in most cases the wider public.
Elvis & Kresse is a brand at the forefront of sustainable luxury and certified BCorp, falling under certified Social Enterprise, Business for Good category.
The Oeko-Tex certification takes a highly scientific approach by testing and confirming that the textiles you are wearing on your skin do not contain toxic chemicals. This is especially important as often there are countless chemicals in mass-produced clothing cycles, including dies, bleaches and more which can cause adverse effects.
Oeko-Tex adopts a four-tier certification system including illegal chemicals, legal but considered harmful to health, chemicals considered generally safe, and safe chemicals. Finally, they too utilise an independent body of certifiers to do compliance testing for Oeko-Tex, and all their rules for certification are binding.
Forest Stewardship Standard FSC wood
Not all wood is sustainable, although many of us have been tricked into thinking that it is. Deforestation is a big issue, as you may have read in our paper waste article. It’s a matter of using the right kind of wood that does not threaten the ecosystems and livelihood and animals that live in them. FSC is wood harvested from responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious, and economically viable forests. So when you spot the FSC certification, you can be sure that that wood has been sourced from sustainable non-endangered fast-growing trees.
There are three different kinds of FSC label certifications to look out for:
- FSC 100%, which means all materials are made from FSC certified wood,
- FSC recycled all of the product is made from recycled wood,
- FSC mixed meaning its both a combination of recycled and virgin FSC wood.
Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS)
When you take a moment to consider how many resources it takes to create your garments, it’s both impressive and hard to fathom. Sometimes each element of producing your clothing has travelled through numerous counties and passed through many hands to become a part of your wardrobe; with all this going on, it’s easy to get this mixed up. One of the most trusted certification standards out there, GOTS focuses on the traceability of different kinds of organic fibres, including cotton, silk, hemp and wool, through tracing the supply chain. Starting from ginning, spinning, and knitting, dyeing, sewing to the final garment (while they care about the raw cotton being organic, this is not GOTS focus). They access this process based on both working conditions and ecological factors. Therefore anything you find carrying the GOTS trademark, you can be sure its environmental and social traceability has been verified through GOTS globally unified standards in different stages of production.
When you find a GOTS certified label, you may notice there are two levels of certification 1) Made organic content minimum of 70% and 2) GOTS organic minimum of 95% organic fibres. On these same labels to better understand the brand’s certification details and add a layer of transparency to you, insert the certifier number on the GOTS website.
Further, to ensure that GOTS obeys its certification rules, they employ independent certifying agencies that have no partnerships with brands or specific agendas. For more information on GOTS specifically, check out this short video.
WAO yet again, holds a GOTS certification for the cotton they craft their stylish shoes from.
Fairtrade Certified Cotton
Fairtrade has seen many iterations of itself over the years. It primarily focuses on the production, promotion and sale of commodities and artisanal items. These items must be made according to the principles of transparent supply chains, minimum prices, fairer terms of trade for producers, longer lead times to promote security and economic self-sufficiency as sustainable production practices. The Fairtrade Foundation works with small farmers, producers, and traders worldwide who meet strict standards. The mark is only on products certified following internationally agreed Fairtrade Standards. There are three kinds of fair trade textiles for garments that brands position themselves depending on where their products are placed in the supply chain, including 1) Fairtrade textiles, 2)Fairtrade certified cotton, and 3) Fairtrade World Organisation guarantee system.
Responsible Wool Standard
Now that it’s getting into the cooler months (at least here in the northern hemisphere), it’s essential to keep yourself protected from the weather. Often one of the most loved options to stay warm is wool, but have you ever wondered where you are getting your woolly good from and if it’s ethically sourced? Well, the responsible wool standard (RWS) can help you understand. RWS is a voluntary global standard that takes care of the welfare of sheep and the land where they graze. The certification adopts a chain supply approach starting from the farm to the final product.
There are five main areas that this wool certification aims to improve, including:
- The Five Freedoms of sheep are protected, referencing standards and best practices around the world
- Progressive methods of land management are practised on RWS farms, protecting soil health, biodiversity and native species
- Social welfare, working conditions, and health and safety of workers are addressed
- It ensures the identity of the RWS wool is maintained at all times: from the farm to the final product.
- A professional, third-party certification body audits each stage in the supply chain.
These aspects of the RWS certification were all developed with the input of farmers, animal welfare experts, land conservation experts, brands and retailers from all parts of the globe.
Here we have provided you with a more straightforward way to discern whether a brand, particularly a big company, can back up its claims of being ethical, sustainable and/or circular. However, it is essential to remember that small and self-funded clothes brands often do not have the money or resources to apply for such stringent and time-consuming certifications. So not every ethical brand carries a certification.
Still, these standards help you understand how to discern both bigger and smaller ethical brands, identify what methods they may encompass as a brand, and understand if they are as sustainable as they claim to be. As always, transparency is critical. If these brands say they are ethical and sustainable and concrete information is hard to find, that’s a massive red flag.
Concrete support will come in the following months from the European Commission, which is currently studying (indicative planning Q2 2021) a way to set requirements that have to be met for a brand to present itself as sustainable or recycled.
While we wait for that, we encourage you to look deeply into each of these standards to build up your critical point of view and understand where your money is going when you choose these sorts of products.
So continue being informed, curious and asking questions.
Check our store to discover Ccrave certified products here.