Standards and certifications in the textile industry manage and regulate products and supply chains. Some of these certifications have an environmental focus, some have social goals, and some incorporate both. Standards and certifications regulate the entire process, only the final product, or only the supply chains (Future Learn, 2020). Sustainability standards regulate aspects of energy use, water use, working conditions, trade values, crop farming, and chemical use (Common Objective, 2019).
It is key for sustainability certification to be intersectional. Intersectionality in terms of environmentalism is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for the protection of both people and the planet. (Intersectional Environmentalist, 2021). Many sustainability certifications have broad scope and incorporate social, economic development, and labour rights issues into their standards as well as environmental aspects (Common Objective, 2019). These help companies to consider both the environment and ethical work environments when developing their products (Apparel Entrepreneurship, 2021).
Cradle to Cradle certification is a means to demonstrate eco-intelligent product design (Future Learn, 2020). This certification indicates that a product that is completely recyclable or biodegradable and made with the low impact manufacturing processes that are not harmful to people or the environment (Apparel Entrepreneurship, 2021). Companies that are Cradle to Cradle Certified focus on: eco-materials, recycling materials, using renewable energy, water efficiency, and social responsibility. These standards apply comprehensively to materials, sub-assemblies, and finished products. Participants of the scheme are awarded Basic, Silver, Gold, or Platinum level certification (Common Objective, 2019).
The Global Recycle Standard (GRS) was developed to meet the desire for verification of the amount of recycled ingredients or parts in a product and is used in both the textile industry and other industries (Future Learn, 2020). The GRS uses a track and trace certification system that ensures that claims made about products are supported with documented evidence (Common Objective, 2019).
Most fibre certification standards are comprehensive in that they assert that each organisation that comes into contact with the fibre must meet the standard in order for the final product to be certified. Organic fibre certifications, such as cotton, are regulated by national schemes. For example, organic cotton in the US is certified by the National Organic Program (Common Objective, 2019).
Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) traces certified organic fibres through the supply chain right up the final supplier (Apparel Entrepreneurship, 2021). GOTS covers both environmental and social issues in textile supply chains. GOTS is mainly applied to cotton but also to certified wool and silk (Common Objective, 2019).
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is the most commonly used cotton scheme. It is a membership-based organisation that exists to respond to the current impacts of cotton production worldwide (Apparel Entrepreneurship, 2021). BCI is based around the promotion and implementation of core production standards. These standards draw on widely used sustainability, economic development, and social principles (Common Objective, 2019). (Intersectional Environmentalist, 2021)
The US Cotton Trust Protocol is a farm-level sustainability programme, with voluntary enrolment, that documents best practices used by cotton producers in the US. The US Cotton Trust Protocol verifies US cotton through data collection and independent third-party verification, resulting data-backed evidence to show the cotton in their supply chain is sustainably grown with lower environmental and social issues (Matthews, 2021).
The International Oeko-Tex Association has various certification initiates. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is a global testing and certification system for textile raw materials, intermediate, and end products (Common Objective, 2019). This certification allows for gives confidence that there is no residue from harmful chemicals in the end garment. There is also the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000 which is a more holistic certification (Apparel Entrepreneurship, 2021). This certification standard tests, audits, and certifies environmentally friendly production sites throughout the textile processing chain (Common Objective, 2019).
The Bluesign programme focuses on environmental health and safety and the relevant legal compliance (Future Learn, 2020). This certification standard combines consumer safety, water and air emissions, occupational health, and the reduction of harmful substance usage at the early stages of production (Common Objective, 2019).
Socially Focussed Certifications
SA8000 is a voluntary social certification based on the core principles of both International Labour Organization (ILO) and United Nations (UN) Conventions. SA8000 is applicable to most industrial sectors. Social Accountability International (SAI) is a global standard setting organization who aim to advance the human rights of workers around the world (Common Objective, 2019).
The Fair-Trade movement certifies the promotion, and sale of items 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, and sustainable production practices (Future Learn, 2020). The criteria for Fair Trade certification support the sustainable development of small-scale producers and agricultural workers in the poorest countries in the world (Apparel Entrepreneurship, 2021). There are four main fair-trade certification labels that suppliers can consider: Fairtrade Certified Textiles, Fairtrade Certified Cotton, Fair Trade USA, World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) Guarantee System (Common Objective, 2019).
When members of the textiles industry are selecting which sustainability certification standards would be right for their business there are many aspects to consider. Decision makers should investigate which certifications might offer the greatest promotional exposure and credibility to their brand, as well as what the cost of those certifications might be. It is also paramount to consider whether the certification body is intersectional and thus incorporates social, economic, and environmental issues into their standards (Common Objective, 2019).
There is also a great deal to be said of thinking about innovation as a means to meet sustainability goals. Certification standards and environmental practices need to be ever-evolving in order to align with the science that must inform decision making if it is to be effective.
Apparel Entrepreneurship. (2021). Sustainability Certification Guide (2021). Retrieved from Apparel Entrepreneurship: https://www.apparelentrepreneurship.com/your-guide-to-sustainability/
Common Objective. (2019, May 29). Guide To Key Fashion Sustainability Certifications. Retrieved from Common Objective: https://www.commonobjective.co/article/which-certification-is-right-for-my-business
Future Learn. (2020). Sustainable Fashion: Standards, Certifications, and Schemes. Retrieved from Future Learn: https://www.futurelearn.com/info/courses/sustainable-fashion/0/steps/13562
Intersectional Environmentalist. (2021). Intersectional Environmentalist. Retrieved from Intersectional Environmentalist: https://www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com
Matthews, B. (2021, April 13). Science-based sustainability: the case for US cotton. Retrieved from Apparel Insider: https://apparelinsider.com/science-based-sustainability-the-case-for-us-cotton/