As with almost every type of product I research for Leaf Score, ‘green’ mattress certifications are a slippery thing. Not all certifications are created equal, with some offering significant assurance that the finished product is free from toxic chemicals, while others offer meaningless platitudes that could apply to something as tiny as the cotton used on a label.
When it comes to mattresses, however, you may need to be even more careful than usual as this is an expensive product you’ll probably (hopefully!) only buy once a decade or so, meaning that if you buy a dud, you may be stuck with it for a while. That, and there are some less than scrupulous tactics used by companies to make their mattresses sound far more eco-friendly and non-toxic than they really are.
Sneaky certification tactics
Watch out for mattress companies that boast certain certifications but fail to mention that these certificates are awarded only to the manufacturer of a specific mattress component such as the cotton or latex. While it’s not essential that a company have the certificates in their own name (indeed, it can help to keep costs down for the end product by avoiding redundant doubling up on certifications), what you want to know is if those certified materials are subjected to any chemical processes or treatments after they leave the factory.
For instance, it’s perfectly possible that a company proudly displays a legitimate GOTS logo for their cotton or wool, but then treats the certified raw material with toxic chemicals such as flame retardants. In some cases, a mattress company will carry certifications for the final product, ensuring that the mattress as a whole meets certification requirements. This is generally far easier for consumer than a handful of certifications that mean we need to try to track what happens to all of the materials used in the mattress through all stages of the manufacturing process.
When looking for and asking for certifications, be sure to check the date of expiry. Almost every certificate I’ve downloaded from company websites is out of date, often by years. I get that many of these companies have a small staff, but if they’re not paying attention to this fairly straightforward information it makes me wonder what else they’re letting slide, or if they’re intentionally leaving up old certificates and hoping no one checks the date.
Other sneaky tactics to look out for include where a company boasts that their mattresses contain Oeko-Tex 100 certified cotton, for example, but can’t claim that all of the cotton they use in their mattresses is certified as such. It may be a matter of random chance as to whether your particular mattress is made with certified cotton in such as case.
As always, then, it’s best to contact any company you’re hoping to buy a mattress from and check their certifications. If they evade the questions, it’s not normally a good sign. If they’re responsive and understand the ins and outs of certifications and the materials they use, that’s reassuring. Such was the case when I contacted Swiss Dream Beds.
The owner of Swiss Dream Beds, Hendrik, got back to me very quickly to explain why their certifications are supplier based; because they don’t subject certified materials to any additional treatments and want to make their products affordable. He also explained that they use Eco Institut instead of GOTS to certify their wool because it’s a much more robust standard, saying, “the fact that it is self-cleaning wool means that the wool must be 100% organic (in the real sense of the word) wool and can never have been treated with anything but cold water washes in order to be still self-cleaning. On the other hand, for GOTS it only needs to be 95% organic [and] certain treatments are allowed. You will also see that with the Eco-Institute the testing guidelines are much more stringent (baby’s touch, respiration, etc.).”
As a counter example, I was considering including Zenhaven as a recommended mattress, but upon talking to two company representatives (and going around in some circles), I found out that the company does not hold the GOTS certification claimed for their wool or cotton, the supplier does. And, again, the Oeko-Tex 100 standard only applies to the latex in the mattress, not to the mattress as a whole. While this doesn’t mean that anything nefarious necessarily happens to the materials as they’re put together to form the mattress, the possibility is there and they didn’t offer any reassurance to the contrary, which isn’t great.
One of the few companies with consistently good certification practices is OMI (Organic Mattress Inc.). They themselves hold robust certifications right across the board and they proudly display these, so you don’t even need to dig around or spend time asking questions. Other good companies include Soaring Heart and Naturepedic. The mattresses sold by these companies are high quality and close in price point to those sold by other companies with no legitimate third-party certifications.
So, now you know how to look for certifications, which ones are worth looking for and asking about when you’re trying to figure out the right eco-friendly mattress for a good night’s rest?
The Eco Institute, located in Cologne, Germany, is an independent organization that has more than 25 years of experience testing products for the presence of pollutants and emissions, even in trace amounts. If a product is Eco-INSTITUT certified, you can be assured that it does not contain even trace amounts of hazardous chemicals and will not off-gas undesirable chemicals and odors into your home. Some of the chemicals the Eco-Institute certification rules out include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates, formaldehyde, pesticides, heavy metals, and persistent organic pollutants.
Eco-Institut is a more robust and stringent certification than GOTS and many others, so if a product carries this, it’s a good sign.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of the materials in a mattress be certified organic, and it prohibits outright the use of certain substances even for the other 5 percent, such as chemical flame retardants and polyurethane.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
GOLS ensures that a mattress made with latex is made of 95 percent organic latex, with restrictions on the other 5 percent of the mattress’s components. Natural-latex mattresses may have both the GOTS and GOLS labels.
There is still no USDA organic standard for manufactured mattress cores but USDA/NOP certification does provide a third-party raw-material assurance for latex sap. This is awarded under the National Organics Program (NOP).
American-Grown NOP-Certified Organic Cotton and Oregon Tilth (OTCO)
Certified organic cotton may be certified by GOTS, Oregon Tilth (as OTCO), or by another member of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) such as the Texas Department of Agriculture. This certification offers assurance that cotton production compies with organic growing and handling standards.
OCS100 Organic Content Standard
The Organic Exchange Certification Program ensures proper tracking of organic material from its source to the finished product. A legitimate, up-to-date certificate demonstrates that the organic fiber in a product has been independently verified.
MADE SAFE certification means a product has been made with ingredients not known or suspected to cause human health harm. Materials are scrutinized by scientists to ensure they do not contain harmful ingredients or release vapors, gases, or by-products that could impact human health.
While you’re hopefully not eating your mattress, it is still a good idea to check that it is made with non-GMO materials as GMO agriculture can have significant negative effects on farmers’ livelihoods, the use of pesticides, and on biodiversity. Organic cotton and wool is necessarily non-GMO, but if a product contains soy-based foam, for example, it’s worth asking about this certification as most soy in the U.S. is genetically modified. Product with this certificate are made without genetically engineered ingredients and are verified non-GMO through independent review.
Greenguard and Greenguard Gold
Greenguard is one of the most common green certifications and requires testing of a finished mattress for specific emission limits of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds. The related Greenguard Gold has more stringent emission limits for VOCs. Both were developed by UL Environment and Greenguard worked with ANSI to become an official standard-setting organization. Neither certification offers reassurance that a product is free from toxins, however, nor do they include a social or animal ethics component.
As an example of things done right, OMI’s mattresses are Greenguard Gold certified and qualify under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s LEED indoor-air-quality program. They offer a printout of their mattress emissions on the UL/Greenguard website here.
Green America certifies businesses that actively use their business as a tool for positive social change. To be certified with Green America a business must also:
- Operate a “values-driven” enterprise according to principles of social justice AND environmental sustainability;
- Demonstrate environmentally responsible practices in the way they source, manufacture, and market their products and run their operations and facilities;
- Be socially equitable and committed to extraordinary practices that benefit workers, customers, communities, and the environment; and
- Be accountable for their work by continually improving and tracking their progress and operating with transparency in every facet of their business
Green America has been evaluating and certifying small businesses since 1982 and has worked with companies such as PlushBeds, who are one of my recommendations at Leaf Score.
There is also a Green America Gold certification that is reserved for companies who are industry leaders for responsible, sustainable business practices.
Oeko-Tex Standard 100
Oeko-Tex Standard 100 lays out limits for the emission of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It also outright bans the use of certain chemical flame retardants, colorants, and allergenic dyes, but it doesn’t offer any guidance on whether materials are organic or sustainably sourced and it’s not always clear if an entire product or just a single component is certified.
The certification process for the OEKO TEX Certification is fairly robust and includes testing for a variety of hazardous chemicals, pesticides, phthalates, lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals. If a mattress carries this certification, it has been tested and found to contain no:
- Chlorinated phenols
- Carcinogenic dyes
- AZO dyes
- Allergy inducing dyes
The OEKO TEX Standard 100 Certification is voluntary and must be updated each year in order to remain active. Many companies are slow to update certificates on their websites, so if you see a certificate that’s out of date, don’t dismiss the company out of hand. Instead, ask if an updated certificate is available.
Cradle to Cradle Certification
Cradle to Cradle is one of the best eco certification programs around but is yet to gain traction in the pillow and bedding industry. Cradle to Cradle is both independent and fairly robust, offering various levels of certification for products. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit organization, making this a third-party certification program.
Cradle to Cradle demonstrate that good green credentials are not the only considerations when buying bedding. Their ‘social fairness’ component means that you can rest assured that you’re sleeping soundly on bedding that wasn’t made using child labor or other exploitative working practices, for instance.
The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard is awarded to products that are sustainable and eco-friendly and created by manufacturers who demonstrate continual improvement in environmentally friendly industry practices. For example, products are assessed in terms of the amount of water and sustainable energy involved in their manufacture, rather than just the presence of VOCs in the final product.
Cradle to Cradle have developed a Material Assessment Rating System called ABC-X:
- A – The material is ideal from a Cradle to Cradle perspective for the product in question.
- B – The material supports largely Cradle to Cradle objectives for the product.
- C – Moderately problematic properties of the material. The material is still acceptable for use.
- X – Highly problematic properties of the material. Should be phased out
Cradle to Cradle certification levels comprise:
At the Gold and Platinum levels, products are certified as free from X materials. Platinum level also requires that the product has a Material Reutilization Score of 100, and that the product is actively being recovered and cycled in a technical or biological metabolism. In addition, Platinum certification requires that:
Renewable Energy and Carbon Management
- For the final manufacturing stage of the product, >100% of purchased electricity is renewably sourced or offset with renewable energy projects, and >100% of direct on-site emissions are offset.
- The embodied energy associated with the product from Cradle to Gate is characterized and quantified, and a strategy to optimize is developed. At re-application, progress on the optimization plan is demonstrated.
- ≥ 5% of the embodied energy associated with the product from Cradle to Gate is covered by offsets or otherwise addressed (e.g., through projects with suppliers, product re-design, savings during the use phase, etc.)
- All water leaving the manufacturing facility meets drinking water quality standards
- A facility-level audit is completed by a third party against an internationally recognized social responsibility program (e.g., SA8000 standard or B-Corp)
- All Silver-Level requirements are complete
So far, just two companies claim c2c Gold certification for mattresses, Vita Talalay and Roewa, a German company that uses Vita Talalay latex. Vita Talalay began making latex as far back as 1932 in Maastricht and now makes latex pillows, mattress toppers, and mattresses. The company’s products carry a wealth of eco certifications, including c2c, Rainforest Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), essent (Green Energy), and eco Institut, and publicly state that they are, “committed to Cradle to Cradle values. Inspired by nature’s continuous cycle, this concept requires companies to use materials and design products in such a way that they will be positive to the environment and human health.”
The company Swiss Dream Beds also uses Vita Talalay latex in their mattresses, in addition to carrying a whole host of other eco-certifications.
Formaldehyde Free Verified
Some mattress products have been validated by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Environment Certification Program to meet the UL formaldehyde-free standard. UL develops a variety of standards to measure and validate performance, environmental health and sustainability. Naturepedic is one of the few companies to attain this certification.
EcoWool and PureGrow Wool
While wool isn’t strictly vegan-friendly, some sources of wool are considerably better in terms of animal welfare. In the US, wool marked with the PureGrow™ label comes from Californian farms that practice sustainable sheep ranching. EcoWool is another excellent standard that provides reassurance that wool is sourced from small US farms where farmers manage their flocks humanely and care for the environment. Both EcoWool and PureGrow are arguably preferable to New Zealand wool in terms of animal welfare.
PureGrow™ Wool is a joint effort by the Natural Bedroom, the Sonoma County Wool Growers, the University of California Agricultural Extension and Debra Lynn Dadd to provide sources of wool produced with absolutely no chemicals, pesticides or artificial materials in the sheep’s environment. The pastures where sheep graze must be free of pesticides for a minimum of two years, and supplemental feeds must be organic. Inoculations must not contain synthetics or hormones, and care is taken throughout the shearing, packing, cleaning, and carding process to keep the wool free of dirt, dust and pests without using chemical processes and while maintaining uniform quality.
Put simply, PureGrow wool is sheared from live, healthy sheep and gently processed without chemicals. This protocol was established around 1993 by a sheep rancher called Joe Pozzi working in Sonoma County, California. The stringent controls have now been adopted and certified by more than 50 ranchers, guaranteeing that woolen products are scrupulously cleaned and created without bleaches, formaldehyde, dyes, or animal cruelty.
Wool certified USDA Organic is also a decent option as is any wool product with GOTS certification. To really up your eco game, look for organic wool that carries the European kfB certificate awarded to products made with wool sourced with minimal animal exploitation.
kbA and 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, no forced reproduction of the animals is allowed, and practices such as tail docking or mulesing are prohibited. kbT virgin wool also has to be free from pesticides and insecticides, a practice that applies both to the animals and to the soil on which the animals graze.
Now that you know what to look for in terms of mattress certifications, you might want to consider which of these eco-friendly mattress materials you prefer and check out these companies to consider for an eco-friendly, non-toxic mattress.