How they are born, what they are
There are over 5.000 environmental certifications; about fifty are specific to the textile sector. The abundance of them indicates how important it is for a company to communicate social commitment and respect for the environment transparently and according to shared standards.
The first was the Blauer Engel, born in Germany in 1978, but only in the 90s, environmental certifications development gained momentum.
The European Commission approved the Ecolabel, a standard for all goods that combines product and process evaluation criteria, in 1992, and in 1993 the regulation (EC 1836/1993) establishing the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). The regulation then updated until its current configuration(EMAS III, EC No 1221/2009) provides companies with a standard for assessing and improving their environmental performance. In 1996, the 165 national bodies members of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released the ISO 14001, currently the world most widespread environmental management system certification. ISO 14001 is in line with the EMAS concepts, and the two standards are now integrated.
EMAS and ISO 14001 define how to manage for environmental performance but do not provide a standard of measurement of the performance. ISO 14001 does not even require environmental performance levels to be specified, while EMAS does without defining the methods or standard procedures for measurement. Here is where methodologies such as LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), water/carbon footprint measurements, and, as far as reporting is concerned, standards such as the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) come into play.
In recent years, standards have also been established for specific declarations regarding a specific product or production site's environmental impact. An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a voluntary declaration following ISO 14025:2010 standard to communicate objective, comparable, and credible information related to products and services' environmental performance. More recently, the European Commission, to standardise declarations within the EU, has published Recommendation 2013/179/EU "on the use of common methodologies for measuring and communicating environmental performance throughout the life cycle of products and organisations," which sets a standard for the Product Environmental Footprint declaration (PEF) and the OrganisationEnvironmental Footprint declaration (OEF). EPD, PEF, and OEF are based on a similar rule-based lifecycle study (LCA) for each product category and must be certified by an accredited third party.
What if a company wants to highlight and objectively communicate a specific sustainability performance such as recyclability or the absence of a hazardous chemical? ISO 14021: 2016 explains how to do it. It is a voluntary self-declaration that follows strict rules and methodologies. The assertions presented in the declaration are verified by an independent body, which assesses the assertions objectively.