You’d think that an industry that prizes itself on being a peaceful practice would maintain some robust standards for using non-toxic and eco-friendly materials. Sadly, as with so many everyday items, yoga mats may be advertised as natural, green, and eco-friendly, but these claims and labels are often just ‘greenwashing’.
As I’ve discussed elsewhere at Leaf Score, there are a lot of potentially toxic chemicals lurking in yoga mats. So, here’s a quick guide to yoga mat certifications, so you know what to look for when comparing products. If you’re in a hurry to be mindful, check out Leaf Score’s top 5 eco-friendly yoga mats.
The problem with ‘green’ yoga mats
Companies can self-declare their products to be ‘natural’ and ‘green’ because these are not regulated terms in the US, unlike ‘organic’. Some companies add second-party certification to their product labels, but these are also insubstantial. Why? Because they are ‘certified’ by manufacturers, trade or industry organizations with a vested interest in promoting the product.
Yoga mat certifications that mean something
When looking for truly eco-friendly products, third-party certification is incredibly helpful. Third-party certification means that a product is assessed by an independent body with no vested financial interest in the sale of any particular product, nor ties to the manufacturer or industry (aside from fees collected for impartial assessment).
Here’s our run-down of the best certifications and why you’d want to look for them when buying a new yoga mat.
Top of class – Cradle to Cradle
Cradle to Cradle is one of the best eco certification programs around, although it has not yet gained traction in the yoga mat industry. Cradle to Cradle is both independent and fairly robust, offering various levels of certification for mat materials. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit organization, making this a third-party certification program.
You can read more about the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standards here.
Cradle to Cradle demonstrate that good green credentials are not the only considerations when buying a yoga mat. c2c also certifies that mats meet a ‘social fairness’ standard which covers exploitative working practices such as child labor. That sounds pretty mindful to me.
So far, just one company has claimed c2c certification: the Taiwanese company SJ Group, who are behind the innovative eco-friendly FPC™ material they’re calling Taifoam. Unfortunately, the link they provide to their c2c listing is no longer live and there is no mention of this credential beyond the Taiwan C2C strategic alliance website. I hope this is an oversight, but I’ve been checking in on this repeatedly for months to no avail.
While I hold onto hope that at least one yoga mat manufacturer will strike warrior pose and get c2c certified, there are other certifications to look for when buying a yoga mat.
If you’re considering buying a rubber mat for yoga, look for QUL certification or ask the company about their materials. Synthetic latex is a toxic petroleum-based product and is hard to distinguish from natural rubber latex. Mats may be advertised as natural but may only contain a small amount of natural rubber.
The QUL seal was created in 1994 to protect the term ‘natural latex’ and help differentiate natural latex mattresses from those that feature synthetic latex. Since 1997, QUL (quality association for environmentally-agreeable latex mattresses e.V.) has been applied to a range of natural latex products. It certifies that products have been tested to ensure they are free from VOCs, heavy metals, pesticides, nitrosamines, and pentachlorophenol.
Prolana and Green Earth are QUL certified. Read more about them here.
Fair Rubber Association
The seal of approval from the Fair Rubber Association may also begin making itself seen on yoga mats in due course (just one mat is currently certified: the Prolana mat).
This certification expands the concept of Fair Trade to products made from natural rubber. The Fair Rubber Association aims to promote improvements in the working and living conditions of those producing goods made from natural latex (rubber). They also aim to promote environmentally friendly rubber production that is chemical-free. Only products that fulfill the criteria of Fair Trade in natural rubber qualify for the Fair Rubber logo.
Again, Prolana and Green Earth carry this certification.
kbA / kbT
Products made and/or sold in Europe may carry kbA and/or kbT certifications. The former certifies that the product is made with organic cotton and the second translates roughly to ‘controlled organic livestock’, meaning that materials are sourced from suppliers using organic farming methods ‘optimally adapted to the climatic and living conditions of the region’ and using ‘species-appropriate animal husbandry in harmony with nature’ (R).
The kbT certification means that no genetically modified foods or fattening aids are allowed in the rearing of animals. Forced reproduction is also prohibited, as are practices such as tail docking or mulesing. In addition, kbT virgin wool has to be free from pesticides and insecticides. This applies both to the animals and to the soil on which animals graze.
Prolana mats carry these certifications.
Some yoga mats are certified to Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or, better yet, the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000. Oeko-Tex is a testing, auditing and certification system for environmentally-friendly production sites throughout the textile processing chain. The 100 standard requires that companies meet stipulated criteria for environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes. The Oeko-Tex Standard 1000 requires proof that the company meets additional social standards.
Some of the certification criteria for Oeko-Tex standards look at:
- The use of environmentally-damaging chemicals, auxiliaries and dyestuffs
- Compliance with standard values for waste water and exhaust air
- Optimization of energy consumption
- Avoidance of noise and dust pollution
- Workplace safety measures
- Child labor
- Basic elements of an environmental management system
- Existence of a quality management system
Final thoughts on yoga mat certifications
As with many of the products I recommend and review at Leaf Score, smaller companies may not have the funds to cover the cost of certification. In such cases where independent certification is not available, you might want to ask for a formal statement signed by senior company officials (R).
Happily, a few good companies have attained at least one decent green certification for their yoga mats. You can check these out here as I say namaste to the five best eco-friendly yoga mats.