Cradle to Cradle Certified certification: what is it and why choose it?
In order to mitigate the impacts associated with the fashion industry it is necessary to undertake a transition path of the sector towards the circular economy, with the aim of improving the level of environmental sustainability of business activities without compromising economic growth.
As pointed out by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation within the "Vision of a circular economy for fashion", applying the circular economy in the fashion industry means creating better products and services for customers, contribute to a resilient fashion industry and regenerate the environment, ensuring the rights and equity of all those involved in the fashion industry and creating new opportunities for distributed, diversified and inclusive growth.
In particular, circular fashion products are:
- Use as long as possible;
- Made to be reused, remanufactured or recycled;
- Made from safe, recycled or renewable resources.
The topic of circular fashion is extremely relevant and we have deepened it in a previous article.
One of the main certifications related to the circular economy corresponds to Cradle to Cradle Certified®, the global standard for safe, circular and responsibly manufactured products.
The requirements of the standard are based on the Cradle to Cradle design principles outlined in the book "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things" written by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.
The Cradle to Cradle Certified standard makes it possible to evaluate the safety, circularity and liability of materials and products in five categories of sustainability performance, illustrated in the book above:
- Health of materials: the chemicals and materials used in the product are safe for human health and the environment;
- Circularity of the product: the products are designed by providing the mode of management of its end of life (reuse, remanufacturing, recycling);
- Clean air and climate protection: product manufacturing processes have a positive impact on air quality and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the use of renewable energy sources;
- Water and soil management: both water and soil are considered as valuable and shared assets and, for this, protected;
- Social equity: Human rights are defended fairly by companies.
According to the requirements of the 5 categories, the standard provides four possible levels achievable by the products: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Each product certification is valid for two years, after which the product must be recertified.
Cradle to Cradle vs Cradle to Grave
As anticipated, the Cradle to Cradle Certified® is based on a cradle to cradle approach (from cradle to cradle).
Such an approach can be understood as the design and production of products in such a way that at the end of their life, they can be recycled (upcycled), imitating the cycle of nature, where the waste of one system becomes food for another system.
In other words, everything can be designed to be safely returned to the soil as a biological nutrient, or reused for new products as technical nutrients.
The Cradle-to-Cradle methodology is based on eco-efficiency and not on eco-effectiveness, since it does not foresee actions that merely reduce environmental impacts, but practices that allow to have a positive impact on the environment, through, for example, research into recycling processes that can improve material quality (upcycling) and not reduce it (downcycling).
The Cradle-to-Cradle methodology is opposed to the cradle-to-grave approach, typical of the linear economic model, which evaluates the impacts at each stage of a product’s life cycle, from the extraction of natural resources to subsequent production phases, transport, use of the product and finally disposal.
What are the steps of the certification process?
To certify a material or product to the Cradle to Cradle standard, companies must work with a qualified independent assessment body to ensure that a material or product meets the requirements of the standard.
Here are the key steps of the certification process:
- Determine if your product is eligible for certification: the standard includes a list of products that are not eligible for certification. Such a scenario is envisaged for products that are contrary to the Cradle to Cradle Certified principles. (for example products containing material from threatened, vulnerable or endangered species) in the case of products for which the requirements of the programme have not been written (fuels and other products intended for combustion in use such as candles, fireworks, explosives), products not complying with local regulations and laws, state and federal applicable. The products must also comply with the list of restricted substances provided by Cradle to Cradle Certified and the company must show a real commitment to continuous improvement and product optimization.
- Select a Cradle to Cradle certified assessment body for product testing, analysis and evaluation: the assessment body must be selected from the list of Accredited Assessment Bodies. In this step it is necessary to develop a certification plan that includes necessary costs, time and resources;
- Collaborate with your "assessor" to compile and evaluate data and documentation: the standard provides for the need to collaborate with the assessor and the supply chain to collect data, which will be evaluated by the assessor himself, who, makes visits to the production site to determine compliance with the requirements of the standard. The phase ends with the submission of the application to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the signing of the Certification agreement and the payment of the annual community fee. Finally, it is necessary to send to the Institute the Assessment Summary Report prepared by the assessor.
- Get certified for your product: The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute evaluates the completeness and accuracy of the Assessment Summary Report. If the evaluation is positive, the Institute shall certify the product and use the Cradle to Cradle Certified® trademark;
- Report your progress: every two years you need to work with the assessor and supply chain to collect additional data needed for recertification, evaluated again by the assessor. At the end of the evaluation, the Assessment Summary Report is sent to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute for review.
Cradle to Cradle Certified products: the methodology for assessing the health of materials
The standard includes the ABC-X methodology to assign a rating to materials within a product (A, B, C, X or GREY), with the aim of identifying the best materials in terms of safety for human health and the environment.
The methodology makes it possible to assess whether the material may contain one or more substances that may adversely affect human and environmental health.
Here are the 5 ratings in detail:
- Category A: the material is ideal from the point of view of human and environmental health;
- Category B: the material does not present any moderate or significant risk to human health or the environment;
- Category C: the material is acceptable for use but presents one or more moderate risks;
- Category X: the optimisation phase of the product shall include the phase-out of the substance or material, as one or more significant risks have been identified;
- GRAY category: the material cannot be fully evaluated due to lack of toxicological information on one or more ingredients.
What are the advantages of Cradle to Cradle Certified®?
The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute instructed Trucost to develop a scoreboard with clearly defined performance indicators to test the benefits of Cradle to Cradle Certified®.
From the report of the study, several economic, environmental and social benefits emerge that the methodology guarantees companies with Cradle to Cradle certified products, such as:
- Extending the life of materials: The Cradle to Cradle approach extends the life of materials and their use, minimizing the use of virgin raw materials. This factor together with a more efficient use of water and energy resources, promotes the reduction of overall costs;
- Risk management: the reduction of the supply of virgin raw materials, allows to manage optimally the risks associated with these markets resulting from price volatility;
- Social benefits resulting from the reduction of environmental impacts: the reduction of the level of pollution or toxicity of the product ensures the protection of human health;
- Products designed to be reused continuously in both the technical and biological cycle: the approach involves the elimination of hazardous substances or materials and the introduction of more sustainable and safer alternatives;
- Greater use of renewable energy and better management of water resources: the approach involves reducing dependence on fossil fuels and more efficient water management in business processes.
What are the limits of the Cradle to Cradle Certified®?
The methodology and the Cradle to Cradle certification have been criticized by several bodies, such as the Technische Universität Berlin, that the Cradle to Cradle approach is not sufficiently reliable and does not ensure that certified products are effectively environmentally preferable.
In addition, a study conducted by the Journal of Cleaner Production in 2015 found that the Cradle to Cradle approach does not consider the entire product life cycle: its requirements focus exclusively on raw materials and end-of-life phases, providing partial environmental solutions, which do not always properly adapt to the distribution of environmental impacts along the product life cycle.
Another criticism refers to the continuous improvement approach underlying the Cradle to Cradle certification. According to the Changing Markets Foundation report "Licence to Greenwash", while the standard encourages continuous product improvement, it is unclear how products improve over time to higher levels, since there is no evidence of the actual contribution of the programme to environmental and social improvements.
The transition of the fashion industry towards greater circularity can be a valid solution to mitigate the impacts of the sector without compromising the economic growth of companies.
One of the certifications that underpins the circular economy is the Cradle to Cradle Certified®. which allows you to assess the safety, circularity and liability of materials and products.
However, numerous criticisms of methodology and certification highlight some limitations of existing sustainability certifications.
The adoption of a certification is not enough to reduce the polluting emissions of companies or to define totally sustainable production activities of companies.
The issues related to the circular economy and sustainability are vast and complex and require multidisciplinary skills to evaluate in a systemic way the environmental impacts of a company and the related actions to improve and optimize business processes.
For these reasons, Cikis supports you in defining an ad hoc sustainability strategy for your company, with the aim of outlining the most effective sustainability path.
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