Extra Question directed at Kim: What should a consumer look for on the label?
Kim: Unfortunately there is no common standard for textiles to enable a consumer to determine the true sustainability (or lack thereof) of a product in the way that there are standards around food labeling for example – at least not yet. There is great work happening to devise standards and common language, such as the work of the OIA Eco-Index and the Eco-Working Group, but there is not yet a finished consumer-facing standard.
There’s also so much conflicting information and facts about what fibers, chemicals, fill materials, etc are best when it comes to sustainability. For example, sometimes a “recycled” fabric or material can require more energy to produce than its “virgin” equivalent, so it’s difficult to rely on material descriptions to help a consumer decide what to purchase. The other problem is that many companies are still “green-washing” (making exaggerated claims about the “green-ness” of their products.
Therefore when looking at labels and hangtags on textiles, consumers should look for other things that give them an indication that the product is being made responsibly, with the smallest footprint possible both environmentally and socially. One of the best things to look for is an independent sustainability standard or mark such as the B Corporation certification (bcorporation.net) and the bluesign® standard.
Consumers should also look for general statements by the company that resonate with them and help them know the philosophy behind what the company makes and how they make it. The other thing to do is to do some advance research via websites about which companies are most responsible and then to select products in the store and online based on brand first.
Dawson: Know your values and what’s important to you as a consumer – what are your goals. Ask a series of questions: Do you absolutely need the product or do you just want it? How, where and how often will the product be used? How long do you intend to use the product? How will you dispose of the product? What are alternatives (rent, borrow, etc.)?
The first step is to be sure the purchase makes sense, then have it make environmental sense. It’s also based on a persons values and the steps they are trying to take – reducing consumption, reducing products for landfill, reducing dependency on oil, reducing carbon footprint, or energy consumption, etc – what’s important to us.
As consumers, we need to educate ourselves and others and understand available options so when we do make the decision to buy, it is an educated and purposeful decision.
Jill: There isn’t a simple answer here but I would say to prioritize your environmental and social values. What is most important to you? Water, carbon, human rights, pollution…. and then research based on this list. If it is a passion of yours, it won’t be as overwhelming to learn about it. Contact the companies that you like to buy from and ask them your questions. The more companies hear from consumers, the more readily the information will be.