The benefits of certification

Originally posted on the Green Loves Gold blog.

When I was thinking about starting a sustainable business one of the things I looked into fairly early on was certification standards. In the clothing business there are a growing number of standards and certification programmes that need to be considered.

Standards in the textile industry

In the industry that I’m entering with Arketype, there are a number of potentially applicable standards – to name just a few:

  • Fairtrade Cotton – Fairtrade certification for the raw fibre and textiles production
  • Certified organic cotton schemes, such as USDA National Organic Program or EU 834/2007 (which takes effect in Jan 2009) – covering raw fibre production using methods that are much less impacting on the environment
  • Oeko-Tex – testing and certification to limit use of certain chemicals
  • Homeworkers Code of Practice – an Australian programme that accredits garment manufacturing as “No Sweatshop” (which is part of the Fairtrade cotton standard for garments manufactured in Australia)
  • NoC02 – programme for auditing, reducing and offsetting carbon emissions

Of course there are many standards and logos which can be quite overwhelming for business owners and customers alike. The good folks at Eco-Textile News have produced an excellent guide for the TCF industry that outlines the major standards for that industry.

Even so, businesses can’t carry out all of these certifications, especially so during the start-up phase where capital (and time) are often limited. So the challenge is to be discerning about which programs we engage in.

Of course, we can also incorporate the principles of the various other programs into our practice, even if we’re not in a position to carry out certification against those standards.

Certification counter-acts the tyrrany of distance

I attended a talk recently by a member of a local food co-op and talk turned to “certified organic” produce. Many of the local growers are using organic methods, but not all are seeking certification.

In discussing this, the member explained that one of the aims of the co-op was to connect local growers with their customers directly. In breaking down this distance – creating a direct, personal connection – he argued that the need for certification is greatly reduced as a relationship is built up and trust develops.

If customers can talk directly to the farmer about their methods, perhaps even visit the farm etc., the farmer is less likely to break that trust as their customers are people they know.

In other words, it’s when distance is introduced – when the supply chain gets between the customer and the producer – that certification becomes increasingly important. The longer the supply chain, the more important certification becomes. I find it a thought-provoking alternative “approach” to achieve the same goal as certification.

For example, at a recent event held by my primary supplier, Rise Up Productions, the makers of our products were there at the event, and were introduced to us. Bronwyn Darlington, Rise Up’s founder, often visits the manufacturers and suppliers of our textiles in India – she has a personal connection to the producers – radically reducing the distance between producer and customer.

This builds confidence in me (the customer) that Rise Up are doing the right thing.

Why should we certify?

Interestingly, though, Rise Up are provide certified organic and Fairtrade cotton products, and are accredited under the Homeworkers Code of Practice. So why, given her close connection to producers, is Rise Up going through the certification process?

I can’t speak for Bronwyn and her team, but for me, certification is still important even under this circumstance for one reason: customer confidence.

Thanks to the effects of greenwashing – essentially an abuse of trust by companies who do more talking than walking – certification is essential to build confidence that what we’re doing is not just a marketing pitch and that our claims have been verified by an independent third party.

Without it, we risk being tainted with the same brush as other companies that aren’t as committed to social and environmental outcomes, but are trying to jump on the bandwagon of growing consumer interest in sustainability.

EthiCool

I received an email the other day from Suzanne at EthiCool – she’s a member of ActNow and she’s started up an ethical clothing label.

The EthiCool range is primarily organic cotton tees and shopping bags, both featuring Suzanne’s graphic illustrations. All of the products are sweatshop free – the EthiCool site has a page that features the producers of the items, including edun, Ali Hewson and Bono’s famous brand. (It seems that edun have launched a blank t-shirt service).

It’s really cool to see more options, especially Australian-run, coming onto the market. And props to Suzanne for getting this off the ground – speaking from experience, that’s not small feat…

Organic vs. Local

Newsvine poses an interesting question:

If given a choice between purchasing either organic produce that has been grown in another country or non-organic produce which has been grown locally, which choice would you make and why?

You can submit your answers before 12am Pacific US time (not sure when that is exactly).

My initial reaction is buy local over organic – but it depends on a few things… Unfortunately I don’t have time to think about a full response.

Band news

Been busy working on material with my new band the last few weeks. We’ve got a guitarist on board and so far the fit seems pretty good – it’s certainly been fun jamming.

And I think I’m starting to get comfortable working with a band in terms of writing stuff on the computer – how to take a live jam and pull together the sequenced stuff around it.

I’m hoping that we can finalise a few tracks (2-3) to record a demo in the next few weeks. I’ll be sure to post the results if the come up ok. Once we’ve got that we’ll start pimpin for some gigs around town.

In related news, I’m jamming with Centipede on Wednesday night to see if I might fit the bass chair. I love their first CD, so I’m stoked to be invited. Thanks Baz for the big nudge 😉

I really wanted to see if I could find a purely bass gig after I got the new band up and running. This opportunity came up a bit sooner than I would have planned, but I’m very excited all the same. Hopefully the jam will go well. Fingers crossed…

Op-ed on GM

Miranda Divine: We must cotton on to the green con.

Interesting alternative take on GM crops in Australia, if you can get past the language: calling opposition to GM crops “idiocy” isn’t the best way to put forward an argument, particularly given the types of concerns being raised are grounded in both experience and research.

Her points contradict information I have read about the use of poly-cultures and organic farming techniques to reduce pesticide use dramatically (if not entirely), and also fly in the face of our collective experience about “miracle” products such as DDT etc. in the past. This, I think, is probably a big part of the consumer concern.

Although I’m sure some greenies may be asking for a blanket ban, I think most are saying “the jury is still out – we need more information from long-term trials in controlled environments”. Certainly that’s my take on things. That’s a far cry from the “a Luddite scare campaign” that Miranda claims.

There is also a big concern about labelling and separation of crops. The concerns are that a) labelling laws won’t give consumers the information required to make an informed choice; and b) if GM crops are not planted in controlled environments, that even farmers that choose not to grow GM crops will not be able to guarantee they are GM free. One of the big concerns about GM canola is the plan to allow crops to be planted with an “isolation zone” of 50 metres of non-GM canola, and notice is only to be given to land owners within a 400 metre radius. This seems too close to ensure adequate separation, particularly when I recall figures in the range of kilometres cited in the past (although I can’t remember exactly where).

And it’s not just green groups – the Australian Democrats have been critical of the government regulator’s handling of the issue as well.

GM crops to be released

It seems GM crops soon to get the green light in the UK.

Unfortunately there was one key thing that was missing from the trials that Acre’s decision rests upon – organic crops. The article mentions that

“Jules Pretty, the committee’s deputy chairman, said one of the most important results to come out of the trials was the extent to which modern agriculture of all types damaged the environment.”

Advocates for organic growing claim this as one of the benefits of going organic – by using organic processes, reducing pesticide use, and looking after the land the impact on the environment is lessened. Lets hope the next study includes organics as an option.

GM crops in Oz

And again, commenting on the government’s approval of GM modified canola crops: GM canola decision based on incomplete assessment.

“ìThe Science Review Report has warned that ëwe must be cautious in drawing general conclusions as these observations were based on relatively few field experiments.í

ìYet, this is effectively what Australia has done. The Democrats support a more cautious approach of the ëprecautionary principleí, as no corners should be cut when we are dealing with the issues of the food we eat and the environment in which we live. ” (Senator John Cherry)