“Circular economy” is one of the catchphrases when it comes to restructuring the fashion business into a more sustainable model. But how to get there?

Eco Intelligent Growth (EIG) is a private, independent consulting firm located in Barcelona offering consulting for companies-specifically in fashion and construction sectors-that want to develop a holistic circular economy strategy based on cradle-to-cradle principles.

Check out what EIG’s Ignasi Cubiñà (co-founder/director) and Claudia Szerakowski (circular fashion consultant) had to say about standardization in denim production, the value of certificates and green washing.

Ignasi Cubiñà
Photo: Eco Intelligent Growth
Ignasi Cubiñà

So far there hasn’t been on standardized definition of circular economy. What principles of creating a circular economy are you following?

We follow the cradle-to-cradle approach, which is based on three principles, originally defined by McDonough and Braungart. In their book with the same name, they outline that our industrial system should mimic that of natural systems: that products should be made 1) with safe materials that are perpetually cycled 2) with renewable energies or at least carbon offsets and 3) respecting natural systems and celebrating diversity.

Screenshot of G-Star website "our most sustainable jeans ever" developed with Artistic Milliners.
Photo: G-Star
Screenshot of G-Star website "our most sustainable jeans ever" developed with Artistic Milliners.

What does this mean with respect to the denim industry?

We do this using the Cradle-to-Cradle Products Standard. This is a certification program run by the Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII), which is based in San Francisco. Denim brands or manufacturers have to meet the requirements in five quality categories: Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy and Carbon Management, Water Safety and Social Fairness. Depending on the level desired, from Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum, denim brands and manufacturers must meet different requirements; gold is the standard in denim. Practically, this means that all chemicals in the product and throughout the manufacturing process must be identified to a level of 100 ppm, assessed and optimized so the product can be considered “healthy” for people and planet. Addressing circular economy, the Material Reutilization category requires that the amount of recycled, rapidly renewable, biodegradable and recyclable materials be quantified, as well as creating a strategy as to how the final product will be cycled. For the process, the amount of energy and water use and their sources needs to be quantified and optimized, usually using renewable energy or carbon offsets, and aiming for closed loop water systems. The social aspect of the manufacturers and brands are also addressed by doing self-audits, analyzing Code of Conducts and investigating potential issues in the supply chain as well as creating a plan how the company plans to address this.



Which companies do you work with according to Cradle-to-Cradle certification and what specific production applications have you created with them?

C&A was the first to certify a gold level denim garment with partner Pratibha Syntex Ltd. in India, G-Star Raw in partnership with Artistic Milliners in Pakistan to develop a C2C gold level certified fabric, later similar projects with Soorty and Rajby also in Pakistan. Outside of denim we have worked with wool manufacturers in partnership with Stella McCartney and Zegna Barruffa, and later with Maiyet and Botto Giuseppe.

Screenshot of G-Star website "our most sustainable jeans ever" developed with Artistic Milliners.
Photo: G-Star
Screenshot of G-Star website "our most sustainable jeans ever" developed with Artistic Milliners.

Do your partner companies receive a certification when working with you?

Companies are required to work with a certified assessor in order to apply for the certification. As a certified assessor, we assist our clients in gathering all the information and meeting all of the requirements of the C2C Products Program, and submitting the documents. If the client and their product meet the requirements, the C2CPII officially issues a certification to the appropriate level.


Apart from that: What certifications do you consider the most relevant ones?

For fashion we find GOTS and ZDHC most relevant, followed by Bluesign and Oeko Tex. We also see interesting certifications in regenerative agriculture in line with C2C principles, for example the Savoury Institute’s Land to Market program, of which Kering is a part. Regenerative agriculture is very relevant to fashion since cotton, wool and leather are widely used agricultural products, and when properly managed can actually combat climate change and restore ecosystems.


Who checks on the companies that they maintain the Cradle-to-Cradle production applications?

The certification is for two years, when it is time to recertify, the original assessor recontacts the company and its supplier to ensure that the original product specifications remain the same, and to make any changes when applicable.

 

How do you find your partners? Do they approach you or vice versa?

Both ways. Companies come to us via the Institute and our network and we also have offices in Pakistan and Dhaka who approach potential clients interested in C2C.

 

So far “green” action within companies is not standardized (so many different certifications) and voluntary (no laws/no consequences). How can this be solved to create the highest transparency and trust for consumers? 

One of the C2C principles is to celebrate diversity, denim manufacturing is not standardized therefore the certifications don’t need to be either. We work with this certification because we want to work with the leaders of the industry, not the ones who just want to be compliant. The best way for consumers to create transparency and trust is to ask critical questions about the clothes they are buying and for companies to be more transparent about their processes.

 

From your experience: how big is the problem of green washing?

The process of communicating sustainability efforts is difficult and complex, therefore many companies need to “layer” their claims to make it understandable by different stakeholders, often to consumers by stating they are “green” or “sustainable.” The problem is when every company does this, it is hard to know what to look for to know who is truly sustainable and who is just copying the others. This requires that consumers educate themselves to a deeper level, which is difficult to do when you have other responsibilities. Third party certifications can help consumers distinguish companies from the competition when it comes to true, verified sustainability. 




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