• Home
  • News
  • Business
  • Sustainable fashion: the most important eco certifications and what they mean

Sustainable fashion: the most important eco certifications and what they mean

By Regina Henkel

Jan 7, 2022

Business

Martin J. Kielmann for CmiA / Cotton Made in Africa

Given the high number of certifications and initiatives out there, it is not easy to keep track of them to make more conscious purchasing decisions. FashionUnited has compiled an up-to-date list of the most important eco certificates and what exactly they mean.

In times of abundance, there is an increasing lack of simple truths. Take the plethora of certificates, initiatives and organisations, for example, that have emerged in the field of sustainability in recent years. There are certificates for product safety, for sustainable production, for animal welfare, for recycling, for social responsibility and even meta-certificates that combine different ones. All of this on various levels of certification. In addition, the criteria catalogues of the certificates change and are adapted to the latest findings at regular intervals.

The general rule is: the stricter the certification criteria, the better. But is that correct or not? Critics argue that only a few companies are prepared to accept this and therefore call for guidelines that are less strict but more widely applicable as this would be more effective overall. And anyone who violates a certain criteria should be excluded immediately - that sounds right at first, doesn't it? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer here either: does it make more sense to exclude misconduct immediately or should we rather work together on an improvement? Here is a list of the seven most important fashion eco certifications with their current criteria catalogues:

Global Organic Textile Standard

1. GOTS: Global Organic Textile Standard

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is one of the best-known textile standards and is considered the global leader for processing textiles made from organically produced natural fibres. In 2020, the number of GOTS-certified facilities worldwide increased by 34 percent to a new high of 10,388 compared to 2019.

GOTS applies to all natural fibres and not only to cotton, which was initially assumed. It covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70 percent certified organic fibres.

In March 2020, the standard revised its criteria catalogue and published GOTS version 6.0. It further tightened the social requirements for textile producing companies. New possibilities have also arisen with regard to permitted fibre blends. Regenerated fibres, that is synthetically produced fibres from regenerative raw materials such as wood, like lyocell or recycled synthetic fibres such as recycled polyester may now also be included in the material in defined mixing ratios. The maximum proportion is 10 percent for lyocell and 30 percent for recycled polyester.

There are two GOTS label-grades: In principle, textile products can only receive the GOTS label if they consist of at least 70 percent organic fibres. The label developed for this purpose then specifies “Made from x percent organic fibres”. There are also specifications for “controlled organic cultivation” and for “controlled organic animal husbandry”.

When a product consists of at least 95 percent certified organic fibres, it may carry the GOTS label “organic” without having to specify a certain percentage.

Green Button

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

In 2019, the German government introduced the Green Button, the world's first state-run sustainability label for textile production. The label sees itself as a “meta-standard” that builds on existing eco labels. Anyone who wants to get the Green Button must therefore have previously obtained one or more of the eleven reference certifications recognised by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The standards approved so far include: Blue Angel, Fairtrade, Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), Oeko-Tex Made in Green, Bluesign, Cradle-to-Cradle Silver, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Global Recycled Standard (GRS), Naturtextil IVN certified BEST, SA 8000 and, since February 2021, the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certification. If a standard only covers social aspects, such as the Fair Wear Foundation, other ecological certifications must be added and vice versa.

The idea behind the Green Button: By awarding only one certification, it wants to achieve a better overview for consumers. According to the website, 64 companies currently use it (as of April 2021), including Hess Natur, Vaude and Jack Wolfskin, for example.

It is important to note that the Green Button can only be awarded if the company and the product fulfil a comprehensive criteria catalogue - that is 20 criteria at company level and 26 at product level. In the introductory phase, which is to last until mid-2021, the Green Button does not yet cover the entire supply chain, but only the production stages “cutting and sewing” and “bleaching and dyeing”. In the coming years, the Green Button will be extended to other steps in the textile chain.

Bluesign Technologies

3. Bluesign Product: focusing on textile chemistry

Bluesign Technologies AG was founded in Switzerland in 2000 and has its roots in textile chemistry. The company developed the holistic “Bluesign System” based on the principle of input stream management. This means that it excludes environmentally harmful substances from the manufacturing process right from the start and can thus ensure sustainable production. In this way, the finished product also meets the strictest consumer protection requirements worldwide. Bluesign considers all impacts on people, the environment and resource consumption. The goal is to reduce the ecological footprint along the entire value chain.

The companies are subjected to strict assessments to certify the chemical products, textile components and accessories produced. If a product is made from “Bluesign Approved” (i.e. certified by Bluesign) components, it may be awarded the “Bluesign Product” label. The Bluesign system is neither limited to certain types of raw materials and fibres nor to individual production steps or certain textile products.

At least 90 percent of a textile product must be Bluesign-certified to be allowed to carry the Bluesign Product label. This includes in particular the inner and outer layers of a garment, including all prints. In addition, at least 30 percent of all ingredients such as zippers, buttons and embroidery must be Bluesign-certified. The remaining maximum ten percent of textiles and 70 percent of ingredients that are not Bluesign-certified must meet the strict limits of the Bluesign criteria for consumer protection.

Fair Wear Foundation

4. Fair Wear Foundation: learning initiative for better working conditions

The Fair Wear Foundation was founded in Amsterdam in 1999 as a so-called multi-stakeholder organisation and is a non-profit organisation steered by non-governmental organisations, trade unions and business associations. Its aim is to improve the working conditions in the global garment industry. The focus is on the particularly labour-intensive production stage of ready-to-wear clothing, where the fabrics are sewn together for finished textile products. At the heart of Fair Wear is a code of labour practices and workers' rights, the “Code of Labour Practices”, which is based on international standards.

One thing holds true when it comes to “fair wear”: lasting change does not happen overnight. And “100 percent fair” clothing remains a goal that is hard to achieve. Therefore, Fair Wear's process-oriented approach focuses on the practical steps that brands can take to prevent problems in factories. The organisation therefore does not award any certificates; those interested can only become members and then have the opportunity to advertise with the Fair Wear logo. Any brand that subscribes to the principles and works to implement them can become a member. In this respect, Fair Wear sees itself as a learning initiative.

However, permanent membership is linked to how successfully a member implements the Code. Those who do not fulfil basic requirements or do not remedy deficiencies within a certain period of time loose their membership. At the same time, particularly committed members can achieve “leader status” and advertise it. All brands and their audit results are published on the website.

Textile Exchange

5. The Responsible Down Standard: down and animal welfare

The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) was launched in 2014 and is now one of the most widely used down standards of the garment industry. Originally initiated by The North Face, the Textile Exchange is now responsible for awarding the standard and its further development. It addresses exclusively the aspect of animal welfare and intends to ensure that ducks and geese from which down is obtained are kept in accordance with various animal welfare criteria.

The down may only be obtained from dead animals; live plucking is prohibited. The animals must be kept in conditions free of animal suffering and may not be force-fed, which is especially a problem in countries that allow stuffing for fattening. Since the 2019 revision, the animals must also be stunned before slaughter. In addition, the breeding farms where the parent animals are kept are now to be included in the inspection. It makes sense to include these farms because the parent animals in particular are threatened by live plucking due to their longer lifespan. Only products that contain 100 percent RDS downs are allowed to carry the label.

An RDS certificate is valid for 14 months and is verified within this period by announced and unannounced inspections. The criteria and claims of the standard are accessible online in detail. Worldwide, over 900 large and small farms with over 500 million animals have already been certified.

Textile Exchange

6. The Responsible Wool Standard: an animal welfare standard for sheep farming

The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) was launched in 2016 by the Textile Exchange and goes back to an initiative by the non-profit organisation and H&M. The certificate is intended to guarantee the animal welfare of the sheep but does not say anything about the further processing of the wool. The standard covers various areas, with a focus on animal welfare, sustainable management and soil protection, and full transparency in the supply chain with an integrated system of traceability. In the area of animal welfare, for example, the standard prohibits the particularly controversial practice of mulesing.

The RWS’s scope covers the entire value chain: from farms to wool producers and garment factories. It is primarily about traceability, not about how the wool is processed further in the value chain.

Textile Exchange

7. Global Recycle Standard: transparency for recycled materials

The Global Recycle Standard (GRS) is a product standard that controls the composition of products made from recycled materials. The aim is to achieve higher percentages of recycled content in products and to make the composition more transparent. The standard was created in 2008; since 2011, the Textile Exchange has been the new owner.

The GRS ensures the traceability of recycled materials and verifies their composition. It also sets requirements for production to reduce their harmful impact on people and the environment. Each stage of production must be certified, starting with the recycling stage and ending with the last seller in the final business-to-business transaction.

For end products such as garments or home textiles, the standard may be used only if they consist of at least 20 percent recycled materials.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.