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Monday, August 22, 2011

Eco yarn: can you really trust those green claims on your next item ofclothing or pair of shoes?

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Many Australians rate sustainability as one of the most important issues facing the nation; we feel there is a real need for more sustainable products but are only willing to pay a small premium for them. Although slower to embrace consumers' desire for more ethical and sustainable products, the textile, clothing and footwear industries are catching up on the ethical fashion trend.

The environmental footprint of textile manufacture is huge. On top of energy and water consumption, toxic gases are released and up to 200 tonnes of water polluted per tonne of processed fabric. Increased global awareness about rural poverty, climate change and sustainability has also increased consumers' interest in the origin and manufacturing process of textile products. CHOICE highlights some common traps to avoid when you're next eco-fashion shopping.

'Eco'-fibres

Most people think of "natural" fibres, such as hemp, silk, wool cotton and bamboo, as environmentally friendly or sustainable options. Cotton and wool are considered the "eco-fibres" of choice in Europe and the UK; Japan is big on organic cotton, while the US is embracing bamboo. But according to Keith Cowlishaw, Head of the School of Fashion and Textiles at RMIT University, some natural fibres, such as cotton and wool require large amounts of land, water and energy to produce. Cowlishaw believes that despite its fossil fuel-origins, polyester is in fact one of the most sustainable fibres. "Polyester is recyclable, little arable land is used and huge amounts of energy aren't consumed in its production."

Sustainable compromise

Although the key to buying sustainably is to consider the impacts of a product's entire life cycle, this is a near-impossible task for consumers armed with a plethora of environmental claims but little immediate, supporting information. Until Australian consumers are better informed about environmental claims, Cowlishaw says the greatest direct action consumers can take to help the environment is in apparel-care. "Washing full loads in cold water with a biodegradable washing detergent and line-drying will have the greatest impact on water and energy use in the life cycle of your clothes."

In 2009, Target introduced their "Think Climate" label which shows customers can reduce their energy use by cold-washing and line-drying tagged products. While Target should be commended for their initiative, its potential positive impact is undermined by subsequent care instructions that state "warm machine wash".

Common green claims and greenwash

A report last year by US environmental marketing agency TerraChoice found that the number of home and family products with "greener" claims had increased by 73% since 2009. Although there are signs that greenwashing has reduced slightly, an astonishing 95% of "greener" products are still committing a greenwash sin (see opposite). CHOICE recommends treating the following claims with caution and looking for supporting information:

* "Green" "environmentally friendly", "eco-friendly" Businesses should clearly and accurately explain why their products are "greener" or more environmentally "safe" or "friendly" than other similar products.

* "Certified products" are assessed against a mandatory or voluntary standard, which can relate to a product's quality, performance, composition and/or means of production. Certification is usually signalled by a symbol or logo on the product (see Common Certification Symbols, opposite).

* "Carbon neutral" claims can be made about greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacture of a product and how businesses have offset them.

* "Recyclable" and "recycled": These claims (the mobius loop symbol) can be misleading if the product is not recyclable or if the facilities to recycle them are not available to you.

* "Sustainable": All processes involved in a sustainable product must be able to be sustained indefinitely.

What CHOICE found

A recent visit to the underwear and baby sections of big department stores highlighted a lack of immediate, credible information available on labelling to assist consumers in their search for environmentally preferable products. Instead, most companies are relying on transferring brand-trust from their regular clothing to their eco-ranges. Our spot-check found mostly organic cotton and bamboo products from brands including Ambra "Ecostyle", Bubba Blue, Jockey, Red Robin, littlebamboo, Natures Purest, Mitchdowd "green" and Purebaby. Environmental claims for bambooderived products include "hypo-allergenic", "naturally antibacterial'; "environmentally friendly'; "sustainable fibre" and "pesticide free".

Bubba Blue's super-soft Jersey Wrap claims to be 10% bamboo, while only Ambra and Jockey label bamboo content as viscose bamboo.

Natures Purest provides information on organically grown, naturally coloured cotton--which is less than helpful considering the boxed product is in fact a baby blanket claiming to be made from 100% reconstituted bamboo fibre.

The Mitchdowd green underwear range has swing-tags on its products that provide information on their selected fibres and the process behind their "carbon neutral underwear" claim.

Organic claims on Ambra Ecostyle's organic cotton socks, as well as others such as "allergy free" were poorly substantiated on almost all product packaging.

We found the Purebaby brand to be most consumer- to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and are part of the MADE-BY scheme, which support companies that use sustainable materials and work with manufacturers that have good working conditions (see right).

Question the claims

Before you buy any clothes claiming to be sustainable and/or environmentally friendly in any way, see if you can answer these questions. If the information isn't available on the product packaging, ask the retailer or manufacturer:

* Are there specific eco-claims relating to the product, or are "eco" or "green" merely part of the brand name?

* Is there evidence to support the environmental claims being made?

* For blended-fibre products, do claims relate to all or just a single fibre?

* Do the environmental claims refer to the entire product life cycle or just a stage? "Organically grown cotton", for example, doesn't mean the final product is certified organic.

* What standards/certification scheme are used--is the certification scheme reputable?

* Are both environmental and labour conditions considered?

* Do claims relate to emissions from the production of the product, emissions from the product's use or both? How are the offsets generated?

NUTSHELL

* Eco-fibres and apparel can be beneficial to the environment in some part of their life cycle, but not across their entire life cycle.

* Manufacturers need to provide clear and credible information so consumers can make informed choices that suit their needs and values.

* The greatest consumption of energy and water in a garment's life cycle occurs in product-care; use cold water and biodegradable detergent, and line-dry your clothes where possible.

DID YOU KNOW?

New and improved consumer law

The Competition and Consumer Act 2010- formerly the Trade Practices Act 1974-states that businesses must not mislead or deceive consumers, or make false or misleading representations. The Act applies to all representations a business makes to you about their products, whether it is in an ad, over the phone, on their website or on product packaging.

Recent amendments to the Act have provided the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with new tools to enforce the law. As part of its investigations, the ACCC can issue substantiation notices requiring traders and suppliers to provide evidence that supports any claims they make, including green claims. The amendments have also provided the ACCC with new enforcement powers to protect consumers, including the ability to issue infringement notices.

DID YOU KNOW?

Bamboozled by bamboo

The advantages of bamboo compared with other textile crops are its quick growth rate and ability to be grown with little or no pesticides, which lessens its environmental impact. Bamboo fabric is widely marketed as hypo-allergenic, having naturally antibacterial deodorising and thermal control properties.

In 2009, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concluded that only mechanically processed bamboo products can be advertised or labelled as bamboo; the soft "bamboo" fabrics on the market today are rayon, a generic term for a manmade fibre created from the cellulose in plants such as bamboo and known in

Australia as viscose. According to the FTC, there's no evidence that rayon retains the antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant, or that any traits of the original plant are left in the finished product.

Ben Wilson, of Australian clothing company Little Bamboo, says there's great debate as to what should determine labeling--the process or the plant of origin. He says although there are no bamboo-specific labelling requirements here, his company has chosen to re-label products to reference both bamboo and viscose and thereby avoid confusing consumers. Bamboo-viscose is processed with harsh chemicals that are known for their hazardous air pollution. Some companies are now using the less-polluting "Lyocell" process for the manufacture of their bamboo products. Dane Totham, CEO of Mitchdowd, says they use this chemical manufacturing process as it's a closed-loop system, so 99.5% of the chemicals used during the processing are captured and recycled to be used again.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

DID YOU KNOW?

Common certification symbols

Environmental standards and certification, or "eco-labels", began appearing in the 1980s to increase transparency and protect against greenwash in eco-products. Globally, many certifying bodies and standards exist that cover organic and eco-textiles. A selection of legitimate certification symbols is listed here; for more, log on to www.choice.com.au/greenclothes

Organic Certifiers

* Australian Certified Organic (ACO)

Eco-textile standards

* Oeko-Tex

* MADE-BY

Ethical Production and Fair Trade

* Ethical Clothing Australia (Aus)

* Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLOI

Optional Organic Textile Standards

* Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

SEVEN SINS OF GREENWASHING

Greenwash is when companies exaggerate the environmental friendliness of their products and policies. According to US greenwash experts, TerraChoice, the evolution of greenwashing has seen an increase in both the "sin of no proof" and the "sin of worshipping false label" over the past 12 months.

1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-off is committed by suggesting a product is "green" based on a very narrow set of features without considering other important environmental issues.

2. Sin of No Proof is committed by an environmental claim, such as "organic", that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or a reliable third-party certification.

3. Sin of Vagueness is committed when a claim is so poorly defined or broad that it's likely to be misunderstood by the consumer. "All-natural" is one example; formal dehyde is naturally occurring yet is a toxic carcinogen commonly used in the textile finishing process.

4. Sin of Irrelevance is committed by making an environmental claim that may be truthful but for the product for which it's made is unimportant or unhelpful. See Natures Purest example above under "What CHOICE Found".

S. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils is committed by claims that may be true within a product category, but risk distracting consumers from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.

6.Sin of Fibbing is committed by making environmental claims that are simply not true. Consumer demand for easily accessible, credible information to verify environmental claims will help trap the sinners.

7. Sin of Worshipping False Labels is committed when a product, through words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement that doesn't exist. Familiarise yourself with legitimate eco-labels to avoid this trap.

Grew, Hannah

Source Citation
Grew, Hannah. "Eco yarn: can you really trust those green claims on your next item of clothing or pair of shoes?" Choice [Chippendale, Australia] Feb. 2011: 17+. Gale Power Search. Web. 22 Aug. 2011.
Document URL
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