In recent years, consumers have become increasingly interested in shopping sustainably. With that increasing interest has come a lot of confusion — 64% of Americans are willing to pay more for sustainable products, but 26% don’t know how to identify them. This is partly due to the fact that greenwashing is absolutely rampant in almost all consumer-facing industries.
Have you ever seen a product marketed as “green”, “non-toxic” or “eco-friendly”? Yep, that’s greenwashing. Those terms can be freely slapped onto labels with no requirements due to the fact that they’re not federally regulated, and there are no legal repercussions for using these technically meaningless words on packaging and labels. Shoppers want to buy more sustainable products, but these greenwashing terms aren’t helping them identify what’s actually more sustainable. Thankfully, sustainability certifications can tell a meaningful story about products — from what they’re made of, to how the people who made them are treated, and how their manufacturing and use impacts the environment. Here’s an overview of some of the best sustainability certifications in the fashion and consumer goods industries.
Fair Trade Certified is the global brand of the nonprofit organization, Fair Trade USA. The Fair Trade certification works on the ground with suppliers to ensure that people making Fair Trade-Certified products work in safe conditions, protect the environment and earn additional money to empower their communities. This certification has intersectional impacts, including an emphasis on safe working conditions, environmental protection, sustainable livelihoods and Community Development Funds. You’ll find the Fair Trade seal of approval and logo on products that have met these standards, from cotton, coffee and gold, to diaper creams, lotions and rice milks.
The Made Safe program is a nonprofit organization that has created a product certification that identifies products that aren’t “toxic” to human and planetary health. The Made Safe certification ensures that a product is made without any chemicals found to be harmful in its ingredient database. This list of ingredients is assessed for a variety of human health impacts, bioaccumulation, persistence and general and aquatic toxicity. Made Safe makes it easy to identify certified products through their shopping center. They offer products in apparel, baby and child, bedding, cosmetics, personal products, pets, household and more.
EPA Safer Choice
An EPA Safer Choice label indicates that the chemicals in a product have been reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency to meet strict safety criteria for both human and environmental health. The Safer Choice label indicates that a product is safer for you, your family, your pets, workers’ health, fish and the environment. The EPA also tests the quality of these products to ensure that they perform as well as conventional products. The list of ingredients can be found in the EPA’s Safer Choice Standard and Criteria for Safer Chemical Ingredients. You can use the EPA’s tool to search for products that meet this standard, including detergents and household cleaners.
The Leaping Bunny certification sets forth criteria for non-animal tested products in the attempt to create cruelty-free products. The leaping bunny is an internationally recognized symbol that guarantees no new animal tests were conducted in the development of a product. It is one of the most stringent animal rights standards that guarantees no ingredients or components of certified products were tested on animals (whereas other cruelty-free certifications only guarantee that the end product was not tested on animals). The Leaping Bunny certification is most commonly found on cosmetic and household products.
OEKO-TEX offers six different certifications that determine thresholds for human and planetary health in different industries. These certifications require tests and audits to demonstrate alignment. The six certifications are Made in Green, the Standard 100, the Leather Standard, the STeP (Sustainable Textile and Leather Production), Detox to Zero and ECO Passport. These standards — while they focus on different materials — all involve the identification of harmful substances and responsible production facilities.
Most of the OEKO-TEX certifications focus on textiles. You can find the certification on bed sheets, mattresses, duvet inserts, tampons, bathrobes and more.
Global Organic Textile Standard
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is an organic certification for textiles. To get this certification, a product must contain at least 70% organic materials and meet all of the ecological and social well-being criteria. This includes, but is not limited to, workplace safety, wage gap assessments, wastewater treatment and limitations on conventional fiber products. These criteria are based on the International Labour Organisation (ILO), United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The GOTS certification offers two label grades — “made with organic materials,” which requires at least 70% organic fiber content, and “organic,” which requires a minimum of 95% organic fiber content.
Because GOTS is a textile certification, you can find all different kinds of textile based products with this certification. You may be asking why organic is important. Organic cotton ensures that the crop is grown without the use of harmful chemicals, leaving the soil, air and water free from contaminants. It also produces around 46% less carbon dioxide compared to conventional cotton, which can contain nasty pesticide residues that can lead to endocrine disruption and cancer. Opting for organic can have a whole host of positive benefits on people and the planet — not to mention that GOTS takes it one step further with their social and environmental criteria.
Jane Pennoyer is chief of staff at Finch, a digital sustainability tool that shares products’ environmental and social impacts.
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