The Currency of Greenwashing is Ignorance
Written by: Anne Gillespie - Director of Industry Integrity, Textile Exchange
The other day I stepped in a puddle of water in my sock feet and I was instantly and profoundly overwhelmed by how quickly it happens and how long it takes for my sock to dry. It seems grossly unfair that such a quick, innocent oversight could result in such an annoying and long-lasting result.
The same is true with integrity: after just one, seemingly small, 'lapse' in diligence, the next thing you know your whole order of organic cotton t-shirts can no longer be sold as organic, or a publicity crisis erupts over invalid recycled content claims, or worse. The scale of the problem seems enormous relative to the issue that caused it; why should one missing transaction certificate be a problem? Or the sewing factory’s certification that lapsed two months earlier? Who knew such small things could be so important?
Ignorance is not an excuse. If you step in a puddle, the sock is going to get wet.
Let’s use some real-world examples and take a closer look at why you are responsible:
- Missing transaction certificate (TC): If you are working with a standard that requires a transaction certificate (eg: OE 100/Blended, GOTS, GRS), then you should be requesting and receiving a transaction certificate with every shipment of certified goods you receive. Without the TC, you have no way to ensure the standard has been met at all points along your supply chain. The goods could have been confused, or even deliberately swapped, with other goods, or some of the conditions of the standard may not have been met (eg: social and/or environmental). If you do not have the TC for your goods, then you cannot use the logo of the standard, and may be vulnerable if the materials or production method of your product is called into question, much worse than a wet sock.
- Lapsed certification: In order for a company to produce and sell goods certified to a given standard, they must be inspected by a third-party certification body, usually once a year. Once they have passed the inspection, they are issued a ‘Scope Certificate’ (SC), valid until a certain date. Each company receiving certified goods is responsible for verifying the seller is qualified. This means reviewing the SC’s on a regular basis to ensure they are valid. A simple annual calendar reminder may be all you need. If the sewing factory’s certification has lapsed, it may be as innocent as forgetting to schedule a re-inspection or as serious as a major violation of the standard which has resulted in temporary suspension of their certification. Whether the reason is small or large, you are vulnerable; you may be getting fraudulent TC’s from this factory or none at all.
As daunting as all this checking sounds, it’s necessary. If you are not diligent in these issues, then you could be a victim of greenwashing, or an unwitting perpetrator. Certification definitely adds cost and complexity to the process of making products, but until we have full supply chain transparency, and full diligence and integrity by everyone involved, we need the assurance given by third party certification.
Fortunately Textile Exchange is here to help you. We currently have the Essential Guide to Certification and are in the process of expanding this to The Essential Series that will give detailed and clear information about the certification process, the roles and responsibilities of each player, and examples of the documentation involved. Look for it later this month.