Setting Sustainability Standards for Green Clothiers


So you eat certified-free-range poultry in your Platinum LEED home and you wash the dishes in your Energy Star compliant dishwasher. Fine. But is that a sustainable sweater you’re wearing? If a new organization called Labeling Ecologically Approved Fabrics (LEAF) gets its way, you might someday be able to prove it.

LEAF‘s goal is to establish a labeling program in the US and a system of standards and third-party testing that fabric and apparel manufacturers will use to verify that the fabrics and materials used in the creation of their products were sustainability sourced, that they were manufactured in an environmentally responsible manner and that that fair labor practices were used in the manufacturing facilities.

In an interview with Sustainable Life Media, LEAF’s creator Elinor Averyt says her hope is the that LEAF will become what the USDA is to food ratings and what LEED is for green buildings.

To establish the LEAF program, Averyt has initiated a 90-day public review process, during which the group will hear from consumers and industry folk and respond to their queries. This step is a requirement of the Global Eco-Labeling Network, a 15-year-old association that provides a framework for third-party reviews and environmental performance certification and labeling systems. LEAF’s review process is set to end on November 24th, 2009. (The comments and questionnaire forms for consumers and industry reps are available here.)

But Averyt says she’s not out to make standards or benchmarks. Rather, LEAF would be a go-between, facilitating information and communication exchange between four key groups: the apparel industry, standard-setting organizations developing environmental and social benchmarks for the apparel industry; existing certifying and third-party testing organizations; and US consumers.

If you happen to be a green clothier and are wondering how you’ll navigate the process of certifying your wares, should the LEAF label become established, worry not. LEAF has already enlisted a long list of consultants who I am quite sure are more than eager to help you out.

Averyt hopes to launch the labeling program, after completing the review process and incorporating suggestions received therein, in the second half of 2010.

But what do you think? Does the apparel industry need a group like LEAF to get eco-labeling off the ground? Do you think that an eco-labeling program for textiles, which will require textile companies and apparel makers to go through a number of (perhaps costly and time-consuming) steps, will benefit from LEAF’s efforts? Or do you see this as more of an eco-hurdle that small and medium sized businesses will need to clear in order to reach their target customers?

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to