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Environmental product claims for footwear

Investigating how a company can support claims of sustainability to its target market.

by John Hubbard

Image © | Petmal

There is currently a great deal of interest in sustainability in the footwear industry and certain consumers are increasingly looking for products which can demonstrate positive sustainability credentials.

There is currently no comprehensive detailed scheme that covers the wide range of issues which influence whether footwear can be considered as ‘sustainable’. There are, however, a number of schemes which go part of the way. For example, an organisation can apply for accreditation to ISO 14001:2015 — ‘Environmental management systems’. This demonstrates that its management team has taken account of the environmental impacts and aspects of the business, has a functioning environmental management scheme and is committed to continuous improvement in the same way it would apply for ISO 9001 accreditation for a Quality System. As the organisation is setting its own guidelines, however, its products are not necessarily sustainable. There are also facility accreditations in place for some material suppliers such as the Leather Working Group (LWG) awards for tanneries.

Elsewhere, there is a European eco-label for footwear. However, this scheme is only applicable to the best-performing products in a sector and has not found widespread uptake – partly due to the lack of public recognition of the scheme. While there are also a number of privately-run eco-labels, the differences between them, as well as a lack of consensus about how metrics can be applied to sustainability and the complexity of footwear in terms of materials and constructions, has so far prevented any of these from establishing themselves as an industry standard.

A European Commission project looked at developing a range of ‘Product Environmental Footprint’ (PEF) criteria for a range of product categories, including leather (see the article ‘New leather environmental footprint rules’) and footwear. A scenario is envisaged where all products within a category can be judged and rated against the most significant environmental parameters for that product type. The ratings could be displayed on labels visible at the point of sale, similar to those used for energy efficiency ratings on electrical appliances sold in the EU. However, the project is still in its early stages, with no firm decision on how it might be implemented.

In-house schemes | franckreporter

Can customers be sure of the validity of environmental claims from in-house schemes?

Some organisations may opt to develop their own schemes rather than use one developed by an external body. This may be due to cost implications or because external schemes do not accurately reflect the product range. Any claims made on the back of such in-house schemes must be justified, accurate and appropriate. Guidance on what claims can be made is set out in ISO 14021:2016 — ‘Environmental labels and declarations. Self declared environmental claims’, and the following statement from the introduction to this standard summarises the requirements:

“In self-declared environmental claims, the assurance of reliability is essential. It is important that verification is properly conducted to avoid negative market effects such as trade barriers or unfair competition, which can arise from unreliable and deceptive environmental claims. The evaluation methodology used by those who make environmental claims should be clear, transparent, scientifically sound and documented, so that those who purchase or may potentially purchase products can be ensured of the validity of the claims.”

There are 17 commonly selected terms with requirements for usage in the context of making an environmental claim. The terms include compostable, degradable and recycled content among others, but even the 17 terms are not exhaustive of the types of claims that can be made.

The advantage of adopting an in-house scheme is that it can provide internal corporate drivers for continual environmental improvement and understanding which aspects have the largest impacts. It also allows consumers to make an informed choice when purchasing from that particular supplier. Because they are based on criteria developed by a single organisation, however, there is no possibility for comparison between competitor products on the market. In addition, if the criteria result in all products getting very similar scores, there is a perceived lack of discretion in the criteria.

Please see the article 'Cemented constructions and sustainability' for a discussion of sustainability within footwear production.

How can we help?

Please email for more information about making environmental product claims.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 30 of the January 2020 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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