Have you heard of RWS, RDS, GRS, GOTS, FWF, C2Ccertified, Oeko-tex, Bluesign and Climate Neutral? Probably – since you’re following Suston. But what about the average outdoor enthusiast?

Being a consumer today is difficult, where we’re expected to consider complex global sustainability challenges in our everyday purchases. But choosing the right product for a better environment and fair working conditions is no small feat. Many companies claim to do a lot, but how can we determine the impact of a specific product?

As a response, a multitude of labels and certifications have been developed in an attempt to show us the way. The list for just sports and outdoor industries, however, is quite long indeed. Within the EU, there are over 200 eco-labels and worldwide over 400.

Most labels focus on a few aspects in a couple of the product’s life cycle stages. A brand will often need to use several labels to cover the product’s various social and environmental impacts.

Some brands and retailers have started creating their own labels to highlight the “more sustainable choices” and simplify the selection at the point of purchase. While these in-house labels can be helpful, they are difficult for a customer to assess as they are often based on criteria and data that are problematic to review and cannot be compared with other retailers’ or brands’ labels. In addition, they are very rarely controlled by a third party.

Welcome to the label jungle

In short, it’s an almost impenetrable jungle, one which also creates multiple standards for the reporting companies Wouldn’t it be great to have just ONE certification for sustainable outdoor products, covering all aspects and categories? A Nordic Swan or Blaue Engel for all outdoor products? This has worked quite well with organic labelling in the food sector, for instance with 47% of Stockholm residents claiming to primarily buy organic food already in 2016.

In the outdoor industry, where we mix all conceivable materials and manufacturing methods and engage global supply chains, the task to create a credible, controllable label for all products becomes much more complex. Nevertheless, this type of comparable rating is already under development. The Higg Index and the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) have ongoing pilots which will hopefully evolve into informative ratings of environmental impact in textile products within a few years. The most relevant of today’s standards and labels will continue to serve as “proof” of performance in specific areas and be referred by the overall ratings. For non-textile product categories, we will likely continue to see a growing flora of labels and certifications, where some will hopefully be sorted out as “credible” over time.

Sustainability knowledge grows, both among retailers and consumers. We quickly learn the basics of new issues when articles, warnings and labels appear. An important ingredient to gain knowledge is increased transparency from the companies, with the opportunity to digitally track a product back in the supply chain. This development is currently accelerating across the industry, and we will be able to benefit from it in just a couple of years.

Joel Svedlund
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