Sustainable design: a journey through 5 product certifications

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Credit: The Rug Company (via Instagram)

The world of design is changing.
With some virtuous companies leading the way, the industry is moving towards sustainable design practices, that will hopefully become the norm in a not-so-far future.

Defining what it takes for a product to be sustainable is no easy task though.
Sustainability includes a mix of environmental and ethical aspects that are not obvious in our current world. On top of that, the design industry lacks transparency and it’s often hard to verify claims.

In this scenario, certifications can bring some clarity.
Of course, they all have pros & cons and are sometimes criticized for what they miss. However, this reflects the fact that sustainability in design is a new topic. It will take time and further adjustments to get to the perfect certification (assuming that such a thing even exists).
But — as often in life — you’ve got to start somewhere right?

Overall, I believe it’s important to start familiarizing with certifications to become more informed consumers.
So let’s take a look at 5 sustainable design certifications as well as some examples of certified interior design products taken from SforSustainable, the sustainable interior design directory I curate.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

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With the aim of setting the standard for what a “more sustainable future” should look like, the UN (United Nations) has created a strategy that tackles three macro-areas:

  • eliminating poverty
  • reducing inequalities
  • addressing climate change

This strategy is to be achieved by 2030 and includes 17 specific objectives, called SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals):

More about UN Sustainable Development Goals on the official UN website

The call of the UN involves everyone, from governments, to companies and individuals. And all sustainable design product certifications can be referred back to this overall strategy.

1. Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Label

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The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ label (also indicated as C2C) is linked with the concept of circular economy and certifies a continuous-improvement commitment to adjust production processes, making them healthy and environmentally sound.

In particular, the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ label looks at 5 sustainability categories in a product:

  • Material health
    Producing using chemicals that are safe for people and the environment.
  • Material reuse
    Making sure the same materials are reused multiple times in several production cycles.
    Practically this requires separating product lifecycle from material lifecycle. Because even when a product gets to the end of its life, chances are the materials it’s made of are still in good conditions. And here lies an opportunity: the product can be disassembled and (ideally) all materials can be reused for new products, thus avoiding waste and limiting the exploitation of virgin resources.
  • Renewable energy and carbon management
    Powering production with renewable sources of energy with the aim of lowering or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. The available options are: solar, wind, hydropower, biomass (if it does not compete with food production), geothermal and hydrogen fuel cells.
  • Water stewardship
    Managing water streams mindfully by achieving healthy watersheds and clean water availability for everyone. This includes (but it’s not limited to) rainwater collection, water recycling and reduction/elimination of polluted water waste discharge into the environment.
  • Social fairness
    Designing healthy and fair production processes that respect people, support diversity and protect natural systems. This includes banning child & forced labour, paying fair wages for fair working hours and ensuring safe and healthy working environments.

When certifying a product, each of the above topics is given a score (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum), and the lowest score determines the final certification level of the product.

Giving scores for individual aspects is a way to encourage continuous improvement. The ultimate aim is reaching a Platinum overall certification, but this will require a constant effort and a number of adjustments over time.

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Credit: Turnstone

Cradle to Cradle Certified™ interior design products

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  1. Adirondack chair — Loll designs(Cradle Certified SILVER™)
  2. Scoop stool — Turnstone (Cradle Certified BRONZE™)
  3. Airlite paint (Cradle Certified GOLD™)

2–3. FSC® — PEFC™ Labels

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FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC™(Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) are the main certifications for sustainable forest management.
They apply to the products of the forest (wood, cardboard, paper) and certify that wood is obtained protecting forests’ biodiversity, in the respect of plants, animals and indigenous people that rely on the forest to live.

Essentially, these certifications ensure that both the amount of wood sourced and the techniques used are not harmful. This leaves forests the possibility to regenerate, so that the practice of wood sourcing can be sustained over time with no harm.

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Credit: Takt (via Instagram)

FSC® — PEFC™ certified interior design products

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  1. Wait it bench — Nola
  2. Cross chair — Takt
  3. Acaciawood bench — Raw Materials

4. GOTS Label

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The GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification applies to textiles. In particular, it’s only applicable to textiles that contain at least 70% certified organic natural fibres.

The GOTS certification checks for numerous criteria along the supply chain, including:

  • Basic requirements of toxicity, biodegradability and eliminability for all “chemical inputs” (like dyes) and prohibition of some critical materials (ex. toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde).
  • Waste water treatment plans.
  • Permission to use only oxygen-based bleaches (no chlorine bleaching).
  • Waste-reduction measures during production.
  • PVC-free packaging, with all paper and cardboard to be either recycled or FSC® / PEFC™-certified.
  • Prohibition of child & forced labour.
  • Proper living wages and safe working conditions for all workers.
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Credit: The Organic Company

GOTS certified interior design products

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  1. Bed blanket — The Organic Company
  2. Timmery napkin — Libeco
  3. Fawn bedding — CamCam

5. GoodWeave™ Label

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GoodWeave is a non-profit organization aimed at ending illegal child labour while increasing children’s access to education.
In the interior design industry, child labour is still exploited especially for the production of rugs and carpets.
The GoodWeave™ Label certifies rugs and is based on 3 main principles:

  • No child labour
  • No forced or bonded labour
  • Documented and verifiable working conditions
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Credit: The Rug Company (via Instagram)

GoodWeave™ certified interior design products

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  1. SK006 — Studio Knot
  2. Clark — The Rug Company

There’s no doubt that the path towards a fully sustainable interior design industry is still long. But by becoming more informed consumers we can all decide what’s worth supporting and lead the change, one choice at a time.

If you’d like to start making more sustainable interior design choices, you’re welcome to check out SforSustainable, where I curate a selection of sustainable home products. And for a complete design consultation, take a look at my services and feel free to reach out!

Originally published at on March 13, 2020.

Interior designer+Content creator on a mission: making interiors good for wellbeing (biophilic design) & our planet. My entire blog:

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