Photo: Per Lundström

FAQ: Down Insulation

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

As with all products derived from living animals and produced on an industrial-scale, there are undeniably animal welfare concerns with down. Suston helps you navigate them.

What is down and where does it come from? 

Down is the fine, insulating layer of feathers found underneath the coarser exterior feathers of waterfowl like ducks and geese. Down has become pervasive within the outdoor industry in cold-weather applications, and not without good reason: down’s insulation, weight and compaction characteristics make it truly a wonder-product that alternatives find hard to match.

Is down sustainable?

As a biobased, recyclable and biodegradable product, down holds an impressive sustainability profile. But the ethics surrounding down can be somewhat less straight forward: as down comes from geese and ducks, animal welfare is a topic that repeatedly raises concern.

Is down animal-friendly? 

Many of these animal welfare issues stem from the fact that much of down comes from the food industry as a by-product. While this actually adds to its overall sustainability, the food industry has its own practices with geese and ducks that many find hard to swallow. Foremost among these is the practice of “forced feeding,” whereby a funnel is inserted down the goose’s throat to stuff down food and enlarge its liver for foie gras.

Another particularly cruel practice in the down industry has been “live plucking,” whereby the down will be plucked from a living goose or duck, so that it can then be regrown and plucked several times over per animal. Thus, the short answer is no, much down found on the market today is not coming from sources that practice humane animal treatment.

What’s being done to change that? 

The fact that down involves animals in captivity and their eventual slaughter notwithstanding, geese and ducks intended for the down industry needn’t suff er the cruelties mentioned above while alive. In the absence of any global animal welfare standards for waterfowl, and following criticism from animal welfare groups, several outdoor industry actors have taken initiative to secure a traceable down supply chain and set standards to ensure the animals live the best possible lives.

Which are the leading standards?

While there are numerous independent and proprietary standards, two leading down standards are the Responsible Down Standard and the Global Traceable Down Standard. The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) was launched in 2014 and is an independent and voluntary global standard that was developed with the input of animal welfare groups, industry experts, brands and retailers. Down is only RDS certifi ed if its entire supply chain passes a third-party audit that ensures a holistic respect for animal welfare has been maintained from hatching to slaughter – including no live-plucking or forced feeding. Only 100% certifi ed down carries a consumer-facing RDS label.

The Global Traceable Down Standard (GTDS) is used primarily in the apparel industry, and essentially shares the same animal welfare standards as the RDS above but is somewhat stricter on at least one count. This relates to the down’s “Parent Farm,” whereby the GTDS requires mandatory certifi cation of farms that produce the eggs, regardless of whether or not down is produced here. While RDS is undergoing revision at time of writing, this is currently optional and parent farms only need to be certifi ed if down is also produced there.

Will the GTDS and RDS make a difference?

Yes. Although the outdoor industry is estimated to account for just 1% of global down consumption, by using considerable leverage in raising awareness and promoting ethical down, the outdoor community can continue to blaze trail for the remaining 99%.

Jonathan Fraenkel-Eidse
jonathan.eidse@norragency.com