When it comes to buying eco-friendly home textiles, think about taking a holistic approach. For instance, buying a T-shirt made from 100% organic cotton may sound like you're doing the right thing for you and your family. But cotton, even organic cotton, is a crop that requires a lot of water compared to other crops (such as hemp or flax). And if the dye used to color that T-shirt isn't low-impact, then chances are a huge amount of water was used in the manufacturing process. Additionally, a toxic dye that gets dumped into the local water system could harm the employees working in the factory.
Being mindful of the entire process -- harvesting, manufacturing, production, shipping -- and the effect it has on our bodies and our homes, is our responsibility as educated consumers. The trouble is, fully assessing and vetting your bath towels, bedsheets, and drapery isn't always a quick or easy. Just like shopping for "healthy" foods in the grocery store, the amount of information to consider can be overwhelming.
Fortunately for us, there are several organizations that help vet and certify textile and home-goods manufacturers for consumers. These certification companies are not only helping to create an audience of more informed buyers, they are giving companies a competitive edge in the marketplace.
At the recent global textile show called Heimtextil, in Frankfurt, Germany, thousands of suppliers, manufacturers, designers, and retailers came together to show off what's new in the world of textile manufacturing. This included bed and table linens, wall coverings, pillows and mattress covers, rugs, hospital linens, and any other woven or loomed products. One of the most interesting groups of exhibitors was the sustainable home-textile manufacturers, who offered innovative eco-friendly products. The textile industry is notoriously rife with pollutants; however there is hope within the numerous organizations dedicated to helping manufacturers audit their factories and make positive changes in the supply chain. Some of these organizations may be familiar to you -- if not, ask your retailer if their textiles have any of these certifications.
- GOTS - Global Organic Textile Standard This organization sets the standard for certifying organic fibers and also focuses on environmental and social standards within the textile industry. It prohibits the employment of children and the use of genetically modified organisms and highly dangerous chemicals. Strict requirements are placed for waste-water treatment as well.
- Fair Trade This group aims to protect the lives of cotton farmers all over the world. It stands for fixed minimum prices for cotton and helps improve the living and working conditions for farmers.
- GoodWeave GoodWeave aims to end the practice of child slave labor in the rug and weaving industries in India, Nepal, and Afghanistan. The organization helps rescue these children and give them opportunities to continue their education. Look for rugs with the GoodWeave symbol for assurance that you're purchasing a product that wasn't made using child labor. Another organization doing similar certification in India is Rugmark India, check out their website to learn more.
- RDS - Responsible Down Standard This animal-welfare organization certifies both independent and industrial farms in the feather-down industry. The certification ensures that geese or ducks aren't "live plucked" and that the conditions are humane for the animals. Consumers can ask their retailers about the tracking method of the down fill (pillows, comforters, etc.) or use their website to find companies that are certified.
- Oeko-Tex (International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology) Oeko-Tex uses a multi-point certification and independent vetting process to ensure that a particular textile has met their strict sustainable requirements. They score based on laboratory tests that ensure the fabric is free from harmful, toxic substances. The number of certifications is vast, but fortunately they have a search function on their site that allows consumer to locate specific brands with this label. If an item has the Oeko-Tex label (like the above image) you can use your phone to track where the item came from.
- Cradle to Cradle This organization helps manufacturers realize the potential for their goods or raw materials to be reused and recycled when the product has reached the end of its use. It aims to ensure that the products being produced do not add strain to our society.
- CO2 Logic This company consults with manufacturers to help them reduce their carbon footprint. Additionally, they offer donation programs that help offset any carbon that cannot currently be reduced.
Presumably these additional certifications add to the cost of operating a business. So what's in it for manufacturers? Aside from trying to be ethically responsible, companies are beginning to realize that there are significant environmental cleanup costs and human costs. Consumers are making choices with their wallets, and operating a sustainable business is a way to stand apart from the competition. Peter Robinson, CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op, states, "Ethics is the new competitive environment."
There were many products featured at Heimtextil that were not only beautiful, non-toxic, and sustainable, but inspiring and exciting. Here are just a few highlights:
- Africa!Ignite Based in Durban, South Africa, this company is in the process of being WFTO certified and helps preserve local culture with its contemporary home décor inspired by Zulu heritage. The hand-embroidery is done on recycled mielie (maize) bags.
- Sanaa by Kwetu Africa This accessories company is designed by Ugandan artist Sanaa Gateja, who turns recycled paper and local materials into jewelry and other décor, such as place mats. Old books, magazines, and posters are fashioned into beads. This laborious practice creates employment for women in the city of Kampala. They are also in the process of being WFTO certified.
- Kirana Mas Homes This basket-weaving company based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia creates custom basketry designs -- using local, renewable materials -- for clients around the world. They also are helping to preserve the local culture for future generations.
- Golden Jute Not just another basket business, this Dhaka, Bangladesh-based company is dedicated to using renewable, eco-friendly materials -- like jute -- that help preserve local weaving skills.
- Mungo This South African textile company uses antique looms and local skilled craftspeople to create linen housewares and goods. They feature renewable materials, social manufacturing, and help preserve local culture.
Libeco This luxury linen company was founded in Belgium in 1864. Their heavy linen is made from flax, known to be a sustainable crop (flax doesn't require water during growth, needs no chemical treatment, and all parts of the plant are used in production). Libeco stands out from other linen manufacturers with its strict sustainability practices. They offer GOTS and Oeko-Tex 100 products; operate a carbon-neutral mill; and employ the use of solar energy, LED lighting, and a more energy-efficient car fleet. Any emissions that cannot be reduced are offset with the company's support of a program in Uganda that helps manufacture cooking stoves that prevent deforestation and improves the health of those using the stove. Additionally, Libeco has partnered with Cradle to Cradle to help ensure that their products are produced in a sustainable manner, are not harmful to humans or the environment, and that the products can be reused or recycled at the end of their life.
Image courtesy of Africa!Ignite