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HxN Back to Basics: Certifications and Standards

Sustainability Standards and Certifications

As consumers, we are becoming more and more conscious of the products we buy and the impact that said products have on the environment and socially. We all want to know that one way or another we are positively contributing to social and environmental causes which help pave the way for a more sustainable and fair world. Try as we might to shop as responsibly as possible, we all must keep “greenwashing” in mind. Greenwashing is a term coined by Jay Westervel, an environmentalist, back in 1986 (Watson, 2016). The term refers to the practice of spending more money on marketing oneself, business, or brand (etc.) as environmentally friendly than on actually reducing their actual environmental impact (Corcione, 2020). 

Greenwashing makes responsible consumerism a difficult practice because companies benefit from marketing themselves as more eco-friendly than they truly are, which is the motivation behind the misleading claims. The murkiness surrounding greenwashing makes it difficult to determine if the products we are purchasing have been through a traceable and transparent creation process along the supply chain. However, as frustrating as greenwashing is for those who are trying to make a difference, there are certifications, labels, and standards that are often attributed to truly conscious brands. Therefore, it is important to be aware of what the labels we see actually stand for, so let’s begin! (please note this is not a full list of certifications or standards, there are many out there but this is a great place to start):

  • B Corp: What are they?: Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. 

  • B Corp: What do they do?: B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. 

  • Fairtrade Mark: Who are they?: The FAIRTRADE Mark is an independent consumer and registered certification label for products that have been sourced from producers in developing countries that operate a fair deal for their workers and employees. These standards are agreed through research and consultation with members of the Fairtrade scheme, including farmers, workers, traders, NGOs, academic institutions, and labeling organizations such as the Fairtrade Foundation. 

  • Fairtrade Mark: What do they do?: While the original Fairtrade mark has always stood for fairly produced and traded products, it also stands for a fully traceable (kept separate from non-certified products) from farm to shelf. This mark is applied in the fashion industry, especially for fair cotton production. 

  • The Global Organic Textile Standard: Who are they?: The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is recognized as the world's leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers. It defines high-level environmental criteria along the entire organic textiles supply chain and also requires compliance with social criteria.

  • The Global Organic Textile Standard: What do they do?: On-site inspections of processors, manufacturers, and traders are performed by independent specially accredited bodies which are the basis of the GOTS monitoring system in order to provide a credible assurance for the integrity of GOTS certified textiles. Only textile products that contain a minimum of 70% organic fibers can become GOTS certified. All chemical inputs such as dyestuffs and auxiliaries used must meet certain environmental and toxicological criteria.

  • World Fairtrade Organization: Who are they?: The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) is a global network of organizations representing the Fair Trade supply chain. WFTO is the home of fair traders: producers, marketers, exporters, importers, wholesalers, and retailers that demonstrate 100% commitment to Fair Trade and apply the 10 WFTO Principles of Fair Trade to their supply chain.

  • World Fairtrade Organization: What do they do?:  Membership in WFTO provides Fair Trade organizations with credibility and identity by way of an international guarantee system, a place of learning where members connect with like-minded people from around the world, tools, and training to increase market access, and a common voice that speaks out for Fair Trade and trade justice - and is heard. The works and achievements of its members make WFTO a global authority on Fair Trade and a guardian of Fair Trade values and principles.  

Image: WFTO 10 Principles of Fair Trade

  • Fair Wear Foundation: Who are they?:  Fair Wear is working towards a garment industry that supports workers in realizing their rights to safe, dignified, properly paid employment. They focus on garment production, specifically sewing, cutting, and trimming processes (which are the most labor-intensive parts of the supply chain). They work with over 140 member brands, who are committed to finding a fairer way to make clothes, and they partner directly with factories, trade unions, NGOs, and governments to find collective answers to current issues. 

  • Fair Wear Foundation: What do they do?: They help conscious clothing brands create lasting change. They support brands that are determined to find a fairer way to make their clothes. The Fair Wear Foundation meets brands where they are – so that any brand can start its journey with them and take continued, practical steps to improving work conditions for people in garment factories. 

  • Social Accountability International SA8000 Standard: What is it?: The SA8000 Standard is the world’s leading social certification program. It provides a holistic framework allowing organizations of all types, in any industry, and in any country to demonstrate their dedication to the fair treatment of workers. The SA8000 Standard is based on internationally recognized standards of decent work, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ILO conventions, and national laws. SA8000 applies a management-systems approach to social performance and emphasizes continual improvement—not checklist-style auditing.

  • Social Accountability International SA8000 Standard: What does it do?: SA8000 improves standards for workers and businesses through management systems, worker engagement, a culture of continuous improvement. Other elements of SA8000 not only lead to better working conditions and worker well-being, but they also have benefits for productivity, stakeholder relationships, market access, and more.

  • Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC): Who are they?: ZDHC is a group of apparel and footwear brands and retailers working together to lead the industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. ZDHC was started in 2011. Part of the initial work established a Joint Roadmap that demonstrated the collaborative efforts and steps needed to lead the apparel and footwear industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals for all products across all pathways by 2020. 

  • Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC): What do they do?: Through interviews and collaboration the ZDHC crafts a vision and a chemicals management strategy for companies to create a chemicals management strategy throughout the organization. They also monitor progress and share their findings to make improvements. 

  • The Soil Association: Who are they?: The Soil Association is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane, and sustainable food, farming and land use. The Charity has a wholly-owned subsidiary Soil Association Certification Limited, the UK’s largest organic certification body. This is run as a, not for profit company which, in addition to helping to deliver parts of the charity’s strategy, also generates financial returns that are placed back into the charity’s wider work.

  • The Soil Association: what do they do?: They campaign for a change by lobbying the government and advocating against harmful food and farming laws. Their Food for Life program makes good food the easy choice for everyone. As well as improving the quality of life for thousands of school children, they help communities through good food in UK hospitals and cities. The Soil Association supports and grows the organic market, as well as the protection of forests. They count with over 2,000 forestries, wood, and paper clients. Through these clients, they are protecting over 17 million hectares of forest all over the world including the people, plants, and animals that live in them. 

  • Organic Content Standard (OCS 100): What is it?: The Organic Content Standard (OCS) applies to any non-food product containing 95-100 percent organic material. It verifies the presence and amount of organic material in a final product and tracks the flow of the raw material from its source to the final product.

  • Organic Content Standard (OCS 100): What does it do?: The OCS allows for transparent, consistent, and comprehensive independent evaluation and verification of organic material content claims on products. OCS 100 covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading, and distribution of a product that contains at least 95 percent certified ‘organic’ materials. It can be used as a business-to-business tool to give companies the means to ensure that they are selling quality and getting what they pay for.

Authors: Hailey Matarese & Alondra Magana



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Fairtrade International. n.d. The Fairtrade Marks. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 August 2020]. n.d. Become A Member Brand – Fair Wear. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 August 2020]. n.d. The Standard - Global Standard Ggmbh. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 August 2020].

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Social Accountability International. n.d. SA8000® Standard - SAI. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 August 2020]. n.d. Soil Association. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 August 2020].

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World Fair Trade Organization. n.d. WHO WE ARE. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 August 2020].

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