Credible Sustainability Claims: There Is a Need to Standardise How We Measure Impact

Cradle to Cradle Certified is the leading multi-attribute standard used globally for more than a decade for designing and making products that enable a healthy, equitable and sustainable future, according to the world’s most advanced science-based measures. texfash.com in conversation with Nienke Steen, Global Lead—Apparel, Textile and Footwear, Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • Cradle to Cradle certified is not merely a box-ticking exercise: optimisation and innovation are part of its DNA.
  • There is a need to take circular design, safe materials and chemicals and responsible manufacturing seriously, make products last & start reusing products & components on a larger scale.
  • The legal framework will change the game in the coming years and that is much needed for a transformation at scale.
The C2C Certified Gold cashmere sweater of Ralph Lauren was analysed through a multi-step certification process, reimagining every component of the iconic sweater, from the cashmere fiber to the rich dyes used in the label. Each garment is made with regenerative soil and water practices and can be recycled into a future one.
Iconic Sweater The C2C Certified Gold cashmere sweater of Ralph Lauren was analysed through a multi-step certification process, reimagining every component of the iconic sweater, from the cashmere fiber to the rich dyes used in the label. Each garment is made with regenerative soil and water practices and can be recycled into a future one. Botto Giuseppe

texfash.com: The recent IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report is being described as the last warning call. With that specific backdrop, how is the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII) looking at the future? How significant, do you think, your role is going to be now? Do you think you are going to become more stringent in both the standard as well as issuing certifications?
Nienke Steen: The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute highly values the assessments by the IPCC, which give a clear science-based view of the status quo and future scenarios of climate change and the need for a transition in international policies, business models and consumer behaviour.  

As background, C2CPII is dedicated to powering the shift towards a world where safe materials and products are designed and manufactured in a prosperous, circular economy to maximise health and wellbeing for people and the planet.  Cradle to Cradle Certified is the leading multi-attribute standard used globally for more than a decade for designing and making products that enable a healthy, equitable and sustainable future, according to the world’s most advanced science-based measures. Products are third party assessed comprehensively across five sustainability focus areas: material health, product circularity, clean air and climate protection, water and soil stewardship, and social fairness.

Therefore, companies that choose to certify their products to Cradle to Cradle Certified, as opposed to other single-attribute standard options, are making a significant effort across their business and their entire supply chains that often requires the transformation of their supply base, operations and entire business model.

Looking at the future, business models need to transform to circular models rapidly to minimise the negative impact on our climate. The circularity GAP report stated that the global economy is now only 7.2% circular.  That's illustrative for the amount of businesses that still need to change the way they operate. It will not be easy, and some companies won't make it,  but it is the only way we can truly address the negative impact on our planet and turn it into a positive one. We need to take circular design, safe materials and chemicals and responsible manufacturing very seriously, make products last  and start reusing products and components on a larger scale. We waste so much valuable resources. Investments need to be made in the area of training, availability of impact data, waste separation, high value cycling and industrial composting. We need to align in the circular value chain with all actors, to understand how we measure impact and what we need from each other to close the loop. Luckily, the legal framework will change the game in the coming years and that is much needed for a transformation at scale.

Therefore, Cradle to Cradle Certified is not merely a box-ticking exercise: optimisation and innovation are part of its DNA.  99% percent of the textile industry is still operating in a linear – take, make, waste model – and our progressive model allows companies to start bridging the gap between where they are and a truly safe, circular and responsible system of production.

The new Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard Version 4.0 reflects the need for even more stringent and transformational requirements and has an ambitious set of actionable requirements for guiding companies to make safer materials choices, create intentionally circular products and processes, and do so in a fair and equitable way, to drive innovation and leadership. To power this systemic transformation, we build on a community and partner strategically with leaders across continents and constituencies, including businesses in our programme, but also, governments, NGOs, industry  associations,  academia and other stakeholders groups.

In reference to climate-related requirements, the standard has an increasingly ambitious set of requirements, from the onramp Bronze level requirements to Platinum.  For example, at Gold, companies must quantify emissions from cradle to gate and conduct third-party verification; achieve 50% renewable electricity and/or greenhouse gas emissions targets in final manufacturing with 50% of renewable electricity used to meet the target (i.e. 25% of total) produced on-site or procured via long term power purchase agreements (or as an alternative purchase 100% renewable electricity.  The transparency requirement dictates that embodied greenhouse gas emissions are disclosed and 25% of embodied emissions must be addressed (cradle to gate at minimum).

We need to align in the circular value chain with all actors, to understand how we measure impact and what we need from each other to close the loop. Luckily, the legal framework will change the game in the coming years and that is much needed for a transformation at scale.

Nienke Steen
Nienke Steen / Global Lead (Apparel, Textile and Footwear) / Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute

The other thing that's just as recent is the EU Green Claims Directive. How do you think the Cradle to Cradle concept itself blends with the scheme of things? Do you think you need to refine your standard on any count? The Directive wants to crack down on greenwashing. What's your stand on the subject? What are you doing to discourage, as well as crack down on, greenwashing?
Nienke Steen: Helping consumers to gain information about sustainability labels on textile products is critical to increase awareness and educate the public on important matters such as the sustainable practices adopted by companies in the making of a product. Independent third-party verification through certifications like Cradle to Cradle Certified play a fundamental role in giving credibility and verifying sustainability claims that consumers can rely upon.

The adoption of the Directive on Green Claims by the European Commission is an important step to counter greenwashing on a large scale. Requiring that sustainability claims by companies are independently verified will ensure that consumers are protected while empowering them to actively contribute to the green transition. By providing third-party verification, the C2C Certified Products Program is already helping hundreds of pioneering companies to take concrete steps in this direction. 

As the world’s most advanced science-based, multi-attribute certification programme, our programme is already fit for purpose to meet the requirements of the Directive, specifically to provide the framework to assess and validate the safety, circularity and responsibility of materials and products across five categories of sustainability performance.

There's more or less a prevalent viewpoint that it's the big companies that go in for standards and certifications both because they think they should as well as the fact that they can afford it. But there are millions of small players, who are either seen as supply chain partners or just Scope 3 emission constituents. How do you react to this?
Nienke Steen: Small and medium enterprises (SME) are essential in the textile sector. They represent a major part of the sector and we can't do without them.  There are many sustainability innovators among them and SME suppliers to the bigger brands and retailers. Big companies have higher budgets and larger scale collections and can more easily afford certifications. 

Certifications like Cradle to Cradle Certified do come with a non-trivial cost because it is backed by deep expertise for detailed assessment and assistance with improvement/optimisation and third party validation. In our programme, you will find big and small companies. We are working on some new tools to lower the cost of data collection for assessments and a number of other efficiency initiatives to bring down the cost.  SMEs are crucial in developing circular products and therefore for the circular textile economy.

The award-winning Cradle to Cradle Certified Gold fabric from Bananatex is the outcome of a multi-year research, development and production process, resulting in a new material that answers questions of environmental, economic and social sustainability. As an open source project, Bananatex offers a circular alternative to the synthetic fabrics that dominate the market today.
New Material The award-winning Cradle to Cradle Certified Gold fabric from Bananatex is the outcome of a multi-year research, development and production process, resulting in a new material that answers questions of environmental, economic and social sustainability. As an open source project, Bananatex offers a circular alternative to the synthetic fabrics that dominate the market today. Lauschsicht

The question of audit fatigue is being debated and discussed over the last few years, and there are initiatives that are working towards cutting down that audit overload. What is your Institute doing in this regard? Especially when it comes to making life easier for textile and apparel players?
Nienke Steen: We recognise audit fatigue faced by companies and to help them reduce it,  we have set up a recognition programme where we invite other programmes and standards that cover part of our requirements on our five impact categories to apply for recognition. In that way we can avoid double auditing and verification of impact requirements and reduce  the audit workload for companies in the value chain. For example, we recognise the Global Organic Cotton Standard, Cotton Made in Africa,  the ZDHC MRSL for chemical formulations for textiles, and thereby avoid companies meeting another MRSL.

The other thing that is being hotly debated today is the whole LCA concept. Even a few years ago, every LCA analysis went unquestioned, almost as if it were the gospel truth. Not anymore. How do you look at this? It definitely can't be my LCA is better than yours kind of argument. Where do you find yourselves in this debate?
Nienke Steen: In order to provide  credible sustainability claims that consumers or businesses can rely upon, we need to standardise how we measure impact. Using LCAs is a way of doing that, but it can be challenging to do well and the results may not be clear. By using LCAs you can easily compare apples to pears, because the assessments could entail different processing steps and data from non-representative value chains. So we need to define clearly what is being measured and how to make the measurement fair and representative.  The EU Product Environmental Footprint Product Category rules are a good approach to create a common standard for LCAs.

While LCA is an important analytical and decision-making tool that uses average, industry data, Cradle to Cradle Certified measures actual data from factories where products are made (e.g., chemicals used in manufacturing, water, energy, emissions), throughout the value chain of the product or product group.   We provide a Product Circularity Data and Cycling Instructions Report with every certified product group to inform businesses, consumers, sorters and cyclers about the materials, chemicals and circular design strategy for the product.

Richa Bansal

RICHA BANSAL has more than 30 years of media industry experience, of which the last 20 years have been with leading fashion magazines in both B2B and B2C domains. Her most recent position was at the helm of editoral affairs at Fibre2Fashion

 
 
 
  • Dated posted: 5 May 2023
  • Last modified: 5 May 2023
 
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