A Breakdown of Sustainability Certifications and what they Actually Mean

Today it seems there are so many different certifications within the sustainable fashion realm; from organic to recycled to all natural to vegan, it can all be confusing and even a bit overwhelming to understand.

Looking for brands or products that have certifications are more trustworthy than those who are making a claim on a hang tag or sticker. A certification typically means that a third party has evaluated the product and it has met certain standards in order to receive.

Here are some of the most popular ones that I think you may already know of or recognize the logo. Or maybe now you will start to see or look for after reading!

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): 100% organic from start to finish. This means any and all dyes and treatments are toxin free. Practices low waste and low water usage. This certification is internationally recognized. One of the most trusted and reliable standards for organic textile use. Nike, Mara Hoffman, Dedicated, Patagonia, and Gucci are just a few of many brands that use GOTS Certified Cotton. Click here to view their website and database for a full list of GOTS users.

Better Cotton Initiative: BCI is a non- profit organization that works towards teaching farmers how to grow cotton more effectively in ways that benefit not only the farmers but the environment and future generations of cotton crops. BCI provides training to over 2 million farmers in 21 different countries. Adidas, Nike, Levi's, Kohl’s, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, ASOS, and IKEA are a few of many that use BCI cotton.

Cradle to Cradle: This is a standard based on a book called Cradle to Cradle, it sheds light on different products and the potential dangers it can cause if not initially designed to be full circle. These products are not considered harmful to people in any way. Brands can certify at different levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum). Kiehl's and Blueland, are a few of the well known brands that have certified products. Most are raw materials and newly innovated designs (which I find to be super interesting to learn about). Click here to view the entire list of Cradle to Cradle certified.

Blue sign: Blue sign examines all chemicals and raw materials that go into making a textile with the intention to reduce their environmental impact. Adidas, Eileen Fisher, Everlane, Lululemon, Patagonia, and Outerknown, partner with Blue Sign, Click here for full list of partners.

Responsible Down Standard: This ensures animal feathers (like ducks and geese) that are being used for jackets, pillows, down blankets, etc are treated in the most humane way. It is up to the brand to request this certificate, it is not required by all companies that use feathers. Some acts that are prohibited are: removal of live feathers and force feeding. Animals should have a holistic respect from hatching to slaughter, therefore, every step in supple chain is audited. Aritzia, Columbia, Levi's Lululemon, Mormot and The North Face use this certificate. Click here for a the full list of apparel users.

Organic Cotton Standard: This standard signifies any amount of organic product that has been traced throughout the entire product cycle. This doesn't take any environmental issues such as amount of water or what chemicals are being used. I prefer the GOTS certificate over this one because it doesn't take into account every part of development and production. But organic cotton is still much better to use when compared to non-organic.

Global Recycled Standard: This label means that a percentage of the product has recycled material in it. This standard also evaluates and environmental impact, social rights, and chemicals being used. The most common recycled material is polyester.

Fairtrade textile standard: "includes strict requirements to ensure freedom of association, so workers can unionize. It also includes criteria for training workers on their rights, democratic representation in the company, and topics such as internal communication and complaints management." J.Crew, Madewell, Patagonia, Athleta, and Outerknown are Fairtrade companies. Click here to see entire list.

Forest Stewardship Council: "FSC certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits" Silk brand Almond Milk, Allbirds' Tree Runner Shoes, and Sketchers' Shoe Boxes are FSC certified. Click here for full list.

ZQ: This certificate is in regards to the Wool industry. Anything with this label ensures that the wool has environmental, social and economic sustainability, as well as animal welfare. Those who choose to certify with ZQ can also trace the wool being used back to the original source. Allbirds, Eileen Fisher, and Hugo Boss, are ZQ certified. Here is the full list of ZQ certified brands.

B-Corp: I've talked about B-corp's before on my blog - my first being brand JUST water. As sustainability becomes in higher demand for consumers, more brands are becoming B-corps, which is great. This holds the brands to high standards and gives customers proof that they are doing better for the environment. The definition of a B-Corp is, "are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. ... B Corps form a community of leaders and drive a global movement of people using business as a force for good." There are SO many companies that are B-corps, in different industries other than fashion. I've linked the entire directory here.

Sourcemap: This is a tool that companies can use throughout their supply chain to be see where every step of the product comes from - from raw material to final product. You can share your entire traceable supply chain with consumers as well. From raw materials, to factories (it even breaks down certifications, Gender ratios, and specifically what is made in each factory)

Click here to see Timberlands' famous yellow leather boot sourcemap.

Click here to see Van's checkered slip on shoe.

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