Circularity and social fairness are two areas to be deftly navigated as consumer awareness grows.
That’s why, for its latest 4.0 product certification version announced Tuesday, Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is innovating in those areas, among others.
“It was time to take the latest findings into account,” said Christina Raab, vice president of strategy and development, who has a doctorate in materials chemistry. “[Circular economy] is a topic that has evolved significantly over the past few years with many new definitions and new findings. We also wanted to set the next level out of how circularity has to evolve around sourcing practices, around the design for circularity and also the infrastructure and partnerships that are needed to make a true circular system possible.”
Social fairness is the other category Cradle to Cradle is prioritizing.
“Everything around human rights, social practices and diversity, equity and inclusion has been significantly strengthened in the standards that we aligned with international best practices,” Raab said.
The evolved Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard also ups requirements for actionable sustainability focuses, like material health, clean air and climate protection, water and soil stewardship. The new standard builds upon years of work and is informed by many stakeholders (including scientific, industry and technical experts, various working groups and a stakeholder advisory council), along with two public comment periods.
Fall 2021 Trend: Knitwear
Criteria for the comprehensive framework is defined by international best practices (like the OECD Due Diligence framework for responsible supply chains) and the latest science. Applicable across sectors and categories, the firm has seen a broadening of demand across denim, luxury and components like chemicals, threads and trim suppliers.
In September, the certification was featured in Amazon’s Climate Pledge Friendly program and among the brands that have recently partnered with Cradle to Cradle, including Ralph Lauren, G-Star, H&M, Wolford and C&A. The first products certified to Version 4.0 will be announced this spring.
“Consumer awareness is only growing around our certification,” said Raab, who called it a “leadership standard” among companies for its difficulty in moving up the ranks from bronze all the way to platinum — a feat still unaccomplished by many. Today, only one fabric has been certified to the platinum level by Cradle to Cradle. (It’s a denim developed in part by C&A.) No finished garment boasts platinum status.
But a recurring problem with certification has been upfront cost and small-scale projects.
“Most of the time, they do a capsule collection, they check it out, they want to test it with consumers, they want to see how to position themselves with this other market,” Raab said. “Increasingly, what’s happening now is companies want to move to full product lines and full product portfolios. They have ambition to have their entire product line also certified.”
With heightened awareness around the issue of forced labor, Cradle to Cradle is hoping to tackle social fairness in stride.
“It would not even be possible to get the bronze level. The company would have to demonstrate that they have identified the issue, that they mitigate it and provide the proof to that within our product assessment process before a bronze level at all could be issued,” Raab said. “How the assessment works is for those types of risks there needs to be a demonstration or a site visit where those aspects are also verified, in particular in high risk areas.”
High-risk areas follow the definitions of World Bank Governance indicators and the Social Accountability International approach.
“[Credibility of claims] is something that is only getting stronger across all the consumer-facing sectors,” Raab said. “Consumers are looking much more closely at that, companies want to avoid any kind of greenwashing toward consumers, and really the need for third-party delegation and for a really robust measurement and communication framework is so important.”
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