Cradle to Cradle

26 08 2011

Cradle to Cradle (often written as C2C) is the certification managed by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII) – previously managed byMcDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC).  William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Time magazine’s anointed “Heroes of the Environment”, are both internationally renowned in their fields.  Known for idealism, vision, and consulting for high-profile corporate clients like Ford Motor Company and Nike, McDonough and Braungart have envisioned “a new industrial revolution,” calling for “remaking the way we make things,” the subtitle of their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle. In that book and elsewhere, McDonough and Braungart disparage “cradle-to-grave” products that aren’t designed to be lasting parts of the manufacturing cycle and that poison the environment through pollution and disposal. MBDC’s Cradle to Cradle™ (often written as C2C) protocol envisions every resource used to make products as a safe nutrient in an endless cycle.[1]  On paper Cradle to Cradle is a dream:   Their goal is to have  “a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world with clean air, water, soil and power- economically,  equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.”

Credit: MBDC

It is a brilliant concept – how can anybody not love it?   Well, this may be a case of something sorta like the Emperor’s new clothes – two highly esteemed people, with overreaching, altruistic goals, seducing us all with ideas we can fall in love with.   But, as Lloyd Alter explains in a Treehugger article this year ( click here to read the article )  after looking deeper, we find out that it might not be  quite as wonderfully “green” as we  thought.  MBDC says that “Consumers can rely on the C2C certification mark to identify and specify sustainable products” when in fact, at least at the Basic and Silver levels, you cannot.  According to Environmental Building News, one realizes that, at the lower levels of certification (Basic and Silver), Cradle to Cradle Certification isn’t really a product certification at all.[2]  And that creates a problem, because designers – even relatively sophisticated “green” designers – perceive that any level of C2C certification means a truly sustainable product.

So let’s back up a bit to understand why the Basic and Silver “certification” is not, as Environmental Building News claims, a product certification at all.    To be clear, C2C has not claimed to be a third party certification, because MBDC consults with manufacturers to help them gain a thorough understanding of their products (since many manufacturers depend on components from other manufacturers).  They then help the manufacturers make changes necessary to achieve certification –  so some perceive a bias.   In 2010, perhaps to avoid this perception, MBDC transferred the C2C system to the C2CPII, a California-based nonprofit, which will allow the separation of the certification body from the consultation body.

The C2C certification program works to express the C2C design philosophy through five categories.  A product’s final score is the lowest of its five individual scores in each of these five areas:

  1. Material Health  – i.e., chemicals contained in a product.  Materials chemistry is  MBDC’s greatest strength and, according to MBDC’s Jay Bolus, executive vice president for certification, “the heart and soul of the program”. To achieve any C2C certification requires that all ingredients be identified down to the 100 parts per million (ppm) or 0.01% level and assessed according to 19 human and environmental health criteria. MBDC uses these criteria to categorize chemicals as red, yellow, or green. Chemicals with incomplete environmental data are rated gray and are, according to Bolus, treated as if they were red. For a product to achieve any C2C certification other than Basic or Silver, it cannot contain any ingredients classified as red;  if it does the manufacturer must have a plan for eliminating them — unless red ingredients have no existing substitutes and the manufacturer contains those ingredients in a controlled, closed-loop technical cycle.[3]  Published C2C guidelines don’t detail what the certification requires of those strategies to eliminate the toxic elements. ”We will help them develop the strategy and develop some measurable milestones,” Bolus explained. “Let’s say it’s a textile—we might know of some dyes that don’t have hazardous characteristics.” MBDC would share that information and help the manufacturer reformulate its product.
  2. Material Reutilization:  this category concerns recycled or renewable materials.
  3. Renewable Energy Use  in manufacturing.
  4. Water Stewardship (water use in manufacturing) – both energy and water use standards focus on manufacturing and do not address the energy and water consumption that results from use of the product.  In addition, there is no assessment of air emissions or product longevity.
  5. Social Responsibility (corporate)

Based on ratings in each of these categories, a product can be certified by MBDC as C2C Basic, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

However, according to Environmental Building News (click here to read the full article ) , there are a number of areas where the concept and the reality of certification—at least at the levels that are being achieved today—don’t match.

  1. A C2C Basic or Silver certification, for example, doesn’t guarantee that a product is free of all red ingredients as mentioned above — the only “knockout” chemical at those levels is PVC, for example.  Although C2C identifies red ingredients at the Basic and Silver level, and companies are asked to develop plans to phase them out or optimize them, there is no C2C report card for consumers that details what a certified product does or does not include – because the list used is proprietary.  An example of what this means is exemplified by Owens Corning Propink fiberglass, which is currently certified C2C Silver.  One can wonder how a product  that some consider “the asbestos of the 21st  Century” and is a possible carcinogen can be awarded Cradle to Cradle Silver. But the fact is, they don’t list the ingredients and publish the spreadsheet or the formula for figuring out the nutrient calculations.  It’s considered proprietary.
  2. MBDC  certifies just the product,  without looking at how it is installed or used. For example, Hycrete  is an additive designed to waterproof concrete[4].  However, when used as intended it is not biodegradable and cannot be recycled by any established process. In practice, then, C2C’s certification of Hycrete as a biological nutrient means that “if you accidentally spill a five-gallon bucket into a local stream, it’s going to degrade and isn’t going to do any harm,” said Bolus.
  3. Also a concern to some industry peers is that C2C is not a true third-party certification program. Third-party certifications are respected by consumers in part because the certifier doesn’t have a financial relationship with manufacturers that could influence the program’s standards or the certification results. The standards community is moving toward a separation between the organizations which develop the standard from the ones which do the actual certification.  In contrast to this model,  MBDC developed the C2C standard and certifies products with it, while its primary business is consulting with manufacturers.

For many of the C2C criteria, Basic, Silver and Gold certifications are based on plans and intentions. “Platinum is where the rubber meets the road and they’re actually recovering product,” said Kirsten Ritchie, director of sustainable design for Gensler and an expert on product certification. Tom Lent, policy director of the nonprofit Healthy Building Network, said, “It is pretty important to understand that C2C certification is, at least before Platinum, more about [the manufacturer’s] process with MBDC than actual final accomplishments in the product.” Explaining MBDC’s rationale for the tiered certifications, McDonough said, “People need the opportunity to improve products. We’ve got to give everybody a chance to get into the game, and then we need to test them on their promises.”  As of today, no product of any kind has achieved Platinum.

These distinctions between levels, however, may not be readily apparent to consumers and design professionals, who see the C2C logo stamped on a product as a validation that it is “green”, and who believe they’re supporting the lofty ideals exemplified by the MBDC protocol, without realizing that those ideals are reflected only at the unattained Platinum level.

The editors of Environmental Building News have called for MBDC to fix this by continuing to refer to Gold and Platinum levels as product certifications; while the Basic and Silver levels should be referred to in language which “clearly conveys that such a product is being reviewed by the Cradle to Cradle program and that the company has committed to work with MBDC to make it better. That’s important and a huge step for a manufacturer—so it deserves to be recognized—but to call it “certification” is misleading.”[5]

As Lloyd Alter, in a Treehugger post in February, 2011, says:

” There is so much to love about Cradle to Cradle. As a design philosophy, it is brilliant and a  model for everyone. I admire William McDonough as an architect and as a thinker. As a certification system there are issues, and I hope that the new, truly Third Party assessment system and the next generation protocol will address them.  But again it is a cautionary tale, that one can fall in love with an idea, and after looking deeper, find out that it is not quite as wonderful as one thought. MBDC says that “Consumers can rely on the certification mark to identify and specify sustainable products” when in fact, at least at the basic and silver levels, you cannot.”[6]

According to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute website,  as of June, 2011, the new Version 3 of the C2C product certification protocol has been completed and was about to be released to stakeholders for review.

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Certifications: Oeko Tex

28 07 2011

I have an apology to make:  I made a statement last week that turns out to be incorrect, based on experience from years ago.  I said

“it’s not unusual to find a GOTS certification logo on a product – because it’s hard to get, and those who have it certainly want to display the logo.  But the certification may apply only to the organic fibers – the logo itself is not specific as to what is being certified.”

Laurie Lemmlie-Leung, of Sapphire International, Ltd, which is a GOTS certified terry mill, pointed out that in their experience,  “If we do not have an approved “GOTS Product Specification Plan” and transaction certificates showing that all the inputs are also GOTS certified, then we cannot use the GOTS label on the product.”  And that is indeed the case:  a GOTS logo on any product means that all processing up to the final product is GOTS certified.  So if GOTS certified cotton yarn is being sold, it can display the logo.  However, if that yarn is used to weave a fabric in a non-certified facility, the final fabric cannot display the logo.

So when you see a GOTS logo on a product, you can rest assured that the entire supply chain has been certified.

Now, back to discussion of certifications:  Before giving a summary of the main points of each of the certifications which deal with fiber processing (i.e., weaving), it’s important to remember that most of these certification programs are in business – so it costs money to achieve the certification – sometimes it costs a LOT of money.  In addition there is the burden of documentation, which increases administrative costs for the manufacturer.

Cradle to Cradle and GreenGuard can cost quite a bit, so when you look on the web sites to find which products have these certifications,  you see mostly large, well established companies which can afford to absorb the certification costs.  On the GreenGuard website, for example, it lists 1943 individual products, but all 1943 products are manufactured by only 20 large, well-known companies.  Sometimes smaller manufacturers decide not to pay the costs of certification, even though they may be doing everything “by the book”, because they’re operating on a shoestring.  Unfortunately, the many unethical claims make third party certification a requirement.

In addition to certifications, there are many new “green guides” on the internet which purport to list green products.  Some are valiantly trying to make order out of chaos, while others are simply adding to the confusion.  Of these, a basic listing may (or may not) be free, but any additional bells and whistles costs money.  So green products may be specially featured or identified (sometimes as “best”) because the manufacturer has paid for the spotlight.  The same is true of television shows which purport to cover new green products.  We have been approached several times by television programs featuring a well-known personality who would wax eloquently about our fabrics – if only we were to pay the right price.

What does this all mean?  Do your own homework!  Most of these “experts” have no more knowledge than you do.  And again, certifications provide a reliable yardstick to determine quality standards.

The third party certifications which cover textile processing and/or final products which you’ll see most often include:

  • Oeko Tex
  • GreenGuard
  • Cradle 2 Cradle by MBDC
  • Global Organic Textile Standard
  • Global Recycle Standard
  • SMART Sustainable Textile Standard

These are the certifications you’re most likely to run into, and they are very different.  So different, in fact, that we’ll take a few weeks to explore what each one tells us.

This week, we’ll start with one of the oldest certifications:  Oeko Tex.

Oeko Tex is an independent, third party certifier that offers two certifications for textiles:

  1. Oeko-Tex 100 (for products)
  2. Oeko-Tex 1000 (for production sites/factories).

Products satisfying the criteria for Oeko-Tex 100 which are produced in an Oeko-Tex 1000 certified facility may use the Oeko-Tex 100Plus mark, which is simply a combination of the two.

Oeko Tex was founded in 1992, by the Austrian Textile Research Intitute (OTI) and the German Research Institute Hohenstein,  to provide an objective and reliable product label for consumers.  Its aim is to ensure that products posed no risk to health.

Oeko Tex Standard 100

The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 standard is concerned primarily with health and safety of textile products – it tests only the end product.  The processing is not addressed – for example, wastewater treatment is not included.   It is NOT an organic certification and products bearing this mark are not necessarily made from organically grown fibers. (Note:  When you see the logo, make sure that the test number is quoted (No. 11-20489 in the image above)  and the test institute is named (Shirley is the institute which tested the product).)

Textiles considered for this standard are classified into four categories, and each category has different test values for chemicals allowed in the product:

  • Product Class I: Products for Babies – all textile products and materials used to manufacture such textile products for children up to the age of 36 months (leather clothing is excepted)
  • Product Class II: Products with Direct Contact to Skin – worn articles of which a large surface touches the skin (i.e. underwear, shirts, pants)
  • Product Class III: Products without Direct Contact to Skin – articles of which only a small part of their surface touches the skin (i.e. linings, stuffings)

Textile products bearing the Oeko-Tex 100 certification mark:

  • Do not contain allergenic dye-stuffs and dye stuffs that form carcinogenic arylamines.
  • Have been tested for pesticides and chlorinated phenoles.
  • Have been tested for the release of heavy metals under artificial perspiration conditions.
  • Formaldehyde is banned; other aldehyde limits are significantly lower than the required legal limits.
  • Have a skin friendly pH.
  • Are free from chloro-organic carriers.
  • Are free from biologically active finishes.

The certification process includes thorough testing for a lengthy list of chemicals, including lead, antimony, arsenic, phthalates, pesticides, and chlorinated phenols. The official table of limits for tested chemicals may be found on the Oeko-Tex website.  Specifically banned are:

  • AZO dyes
  • Carcinogenic and allergy-inducing dyes
  • Pesticides
  • Chlorinated phenols
  • Chloro-organic benzenes and toluenes
  • Extractable heavy metals
  • Phthalates in baby articles
  • Organotin compounds(TBT and DBT)
  • Emissions of volatile components

Certification may be given to a finished product (such as a shirt), or to individual components (such as yarn, or fabric).

Oeko-Tex Standard 1000

The Oeko-Tex 1000 is a certification for environmentally-friendly textile production.
The goal of the Oeko-Tex 1000 Standard is to be “an evaluation of the environmental performance of textile production sites and products and to document independently that certain environmental measures are undertaken and a certain level achieved.”

The evaluation process includes considerations for:

  • environmental impact: energy consumption, whether materials used are renewable or non-renewable, and the overall impact of the space utilized
  • global impact: use of fossil fuels, use of ozone-depleting chemicals regional impact: VOC’s, water contamination, acidification of soil and water from fossil fuel use, emissions (often from chlorine bleaching)
  • local effects: emissions, workplace contamination, noise, use of dangerous chemical products

The mark is not applied directly to products, but may be used by the production site (for example, on its letterhead and official documents). The “local effects” consideration does NOT include an evaluation of labor practices and is not meant to be an indicator of whether a production site is following fair labor practices.

Oeko-Tex 100Plus

This label may be used on products that have met the Oeko-Tex 100 Standard and are also produced in a facility that meets the Oeko-Tex 1000 Standard.

So, these are the important points to keep in mind when you see the Oeko Tex logo:

  1. Oeko Tex 100 is product specific – they don’t look at processing (i.e., water treatment, workers rights, emissions, sludge), it only means that the finished product (fabric, yarn, clothing, etc.) has limit values for chemicals which are below the threshold limits on the Oeko Tex list, with many specifically prohibited.
  2. Oeko Tex 1000 is site specific, and documents that certain environmental standards are met, but these do not include workers rights issues.
  3. Oeko Tex 100+ means that the site meets environmental standards and the product itself is safe to use.




Certifications – part 1

22 07 2011

If you agree with me that a third party certification is a way to give us the most unbiased, substantive  information about the environmental performance of a fabric, let’s look at third party certifications which are on the market and which test finished textiles.  It’s important to know what each certification is telling us, both to keep our frustration levels manageable and to be able to extract useful, trustworthy information.  But before we get to individual certifications, there are several issues that are unique to fabrics, which we should mention first.

The first issue has to do with the fact that people often think about what the fabric is made of and totally forget the long and complex process that has to happen to turn the raw material into a soft, smooth finished fabric  –  I mean, really, do you actually think that the cotton boll which you see in the picture is transformed into your blouse without some kind of serious work?  What about oil?  Think of crude oil and your new sheets – what do you think has to have happened to that crude to make it acceptable for your bedroom?

The market is absolutely rife with claims about organic cotton – and believe me, I have absolutely nothing against organic cotton.  But the focus (by marketers and consumers alike) is that if it’s made of organic cotton, then the product is sustainable.  That’s far from the truth.  We like to use the analogy of  “organic applesauce” – that is, if you take organic apples, then cook them with preservatives, emulsifiers, Red Dye #2, stabilizers and any number of other additives – do you end up with organic applesauce?  Just like bread – which is made from wheat which is grown (maybe organically), harvested, ground into flour, mixed with milk, yeast, salt and maybe other things, then baked – fabric undergoes the same type of transformation.

So the certifications which are often found on fabrics may only pertain to the FIBER, and not to the processing.  What they mean is the fabric started out with organic fibers – but the processing, like the organic applesauce mentioned above, results in fabric that contains a high proportion, by weight, of synthetic chemicals (such as lead or mercury, formaldehyde, chlorine, or phthalates).

So if only the fiber is certified,  you can assume that the chemicals used in processing may contain some of the highly toxic chemicals usually found in solvents, dyestuffs, and finishes.  And you can assume that the excess chemicals were released in the effluent and are now circulating in our groundwater.  Nor is any mention made of fair wages and safe working conditions.   In other words, a fabric made with “organic cotton”, if processed conventionally, is full of chemicals which may be prohibited in a truly organic fabric and which are known to cause all kinds of bad things to human bodies (especially really little bodies), and those harmful chemicals, released in untreated effluent, are now contributing to our own chemical body burden.

Besides the proliferation of certifications, further muddying of the waters happens because the textile supply chain is one of the most complex in all of industry – and some of the certification agencies can certify each step in the process.  In other words, each end product can be certified.  So if we deconstruct a piece of fabric, it’s possible (indeed necessary to certify the final product) to  have certification at each stage:   (1) growing and harvesting of organic fibers  (2) ginning or other preparation of the fibers to make them suitable for use in spinning;  (3)  spinning of the fibers into yarns; (4) weaving of the yarns into fabric   (5) dyeing and/or finishing and (6) final product (i.e., blouse, tablecloth, etc.).  So it’s not unusual to find a GOTS certification logo on a product – because it’s hard to get, and those who have it certainly want to display the logo.  But the certification may apply only to the organic fibers – the logo itself is not specific as to what is being certified.

It’s quite common to find  “organic cotton” fabrics  in the market – in other words, fabrics made of organic fibers.  But unless you do some probing, it’s common to find that the “organic” part pertains only to the fiber, while the fabric was made conventionally.

Certification agencies (the companies that verify the fibers/fabric meets the standards set for in the certification)  for fibers and textiles  include:

  • USDA organic

    United States Department of Agriculture, National Organic Program (NOP):  this logo certifies that the fiber is organic –  only the fiber.  According to a new Department of Agriculture memorandum dated May 20, 2011, textiles and textile products labeled as “organic” must be third-party certified, and all fibers identified as “organic” contained in the textile product must be certified organic to the NOP regulations. The policy memo confirms that textile products that are produced in accordance with the the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) may be sold as ‘organic’ in the U.S. though they may not refer to NOP certification or carry the USDA organic seal.

  • Soil Association Certification Limited (SA Certification) is the UK’s largest organic certification body. It’s also the only certification body linked to a committed charity, promoting organic food and farming.  As a member of the Global Standard GmbH, the managing body of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the Soil Association now uses the GOTS certification for all new textile products.
  • OneCert:  OneCert provides organic certification worldwide. Certification and inspection programs include the US National Organic Program (NOP), European Organic Regulations (EU 2092/91), Quebec Organic Standards (CAQ), Japan Agricultural Standards (JAS), IFOAM, and Bio Suisse. Services include organic certification, organic inspection, export certificates, transaction certificates, on-line record keeping, answers to certification questions, and presentations of organic topics.
  • Peterson Control Union:  Control Union is a global one-stop-shop for a range of services in all aspects of the logistics chain of many commodities, including certification programs.   It certifies to the standards of The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and the Organic Exchange.
  • The Institute for Marketcology (IMO): IMO is one of the first and most renowned international agencies for inspection, certification and quality assurance of eco-friendly products. IMO offers certification for organic production and handling according to the European Regulation (EU) Nr. 2092/91, GOTS, Organic Exchange and for The International Association of Natural Textile Industry, known as IVN.  IVN is an alliance of more than 70 businesses involved at some level in the textile production chain, with the goal of countering abuses by having a clearly defined “ecologically oriented and socially accountable business practice.”    If a company meets their standards they are awarded a quality seal, which is called Naturtextil IVN certified or certified Best.  According to the IVN, GOTS is the minimum standard that distinguishes ecotextiles.  Read more here.

The third party certifications which we think every conscious consumer of fabric should be aware includes:  Oeko-Tex, GOTS, C2C, GreenGuard, Global  Recycle Standard and SMART.  Each one has its own set of standards and we’ll take a look at them next week.