Greenwashing is one of my major pet peeves and something I talk about time and again at Leaf Score. Rug manufacturers are no different than companies making tampons, yoga mats, mattresses, or any of the other things I’ve investigated in recent months. As with these other goods, many rug sellers piggyback on consumer enthusiasm for eco-friendly products by advertising goods as ‘natural’ when they’re anything but.
In this series on rugs for Leaf Score, I’ve already offered an overview of what to watch out for when buying a new rug, such as toxic chemicals and environmentally dubious materials. The truth is, though, that even if you find it easy to identify and avoid a PVC rug, many rugs that seem natural, non-toxic, and eco-friendly still pose potential risks. Fortunately, some third-party certifications can help us figure out who makes genuinely great rugs and which companies are nothing but fluff.
Looking to skip to our top picks? Check out our favorite sustainable and non-toxic rugs here.
Why do third-party certifications matter? Well, because companies in the US can self-declare their products to be ‘natural’ and ‘green’ without any kind of support for these claims. These terms are not regulated in the US, unlike ‘organic’. Some companies add second-party certification to their product labels, but these are also insubstantial, given that they are awarded by manufacturers, trade or industry organizations with a vested interest in promoting the product.
When looking for eco-friendly products, third-party certification is a must. Credible 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).
Without further ado, here are some of the certifications to look for when purchasing an eco-friendly rug.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of the materials in a product are certified organic, and it prohibits outright the use of certain substances even for the other 5 percent, such as chemical flame retardants.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
GOLS ensures that a product made with latex contains at least 95 percent organic latex, with restrictions on the make-up of the other 5 percent. A certified organic cotton rug with natural-latex non-slip backing may have both the GOTS and GOLS labels. I haven’t, as yet, found any rugs that have GOLS certification, however. Let me know if you see one!
Greenguard and Greenguard Gold
Greenguard is one of the most common green certifications and requires testing of a finished rug 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 and the industry does not seem to favor these certifications currently, relying instead on GOTS, Fair Trade, Nest, and other certifications.
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. There is also a Green America Gold certification that is reserved for companies who are industry leaders for responsible, sustainable business practices.
Child labor is rampant in the handmade rug and carpet industry. GoodWeave is the main organization that certifies child-labor-free rugs and provides education and opportunities to at-risk children. If your rug is hand-knotted, be sure that the company has GoodWeave certification or equivalent as hand-knotted rugs are predominantly made by home-based handworkers where child labor is rampant.
Green Label and Green Label Plus™
The Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label and Green Label Plus have been around since 1992 and the early 2000s respectively. The CRI is an industry body, making Green Label Plus a second-party certification. However, Green Label Plus is incorporated into the LEED standard for indoor carpet, lending it greater credibility, and CRI has begun working with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to increase transparency.
Green Label Plus certifies rugs with very low or no VOC emissions to help improve indoor air quality. Unfortunately, many rugs that are made with petroleum-based materials and emit harmful VOCs are still able to qualify for Green Label certification, which throws the value of the certification into question. In fact, not a single rug currently listed with Green Label Plus certification is made without synthetic materials. So, all in all, Green Label Plus is not a good standard by which to judge a rug’s eco-credentials.
UL Environment have also developed GREENGUARD Certification to help identify interior products and materials that have low chemical emissions. Greenguard also worked with ANSI to become an official standard-setting organization. Again, I rarely see rugs with this certification, so, if you spot one, let me know.
Cradle to Cradle Certification
Cradle to Cradle is both independent and more robust than Green Label Plus, but there are currently no rugs certified to this standard. If you do see this label on a rug, check the official c2c website for verification, then buy it and let me know!
Companies who use latex in their products may carry certification from the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) to certify that it is natural rubber rather than toxic synthetic rubber. Some companies also carry FSC certification for their packaging materials. A handful of companies carry Green People listing, which is not a very robust standard but does offer some assurance that a third-party has likely checked the claims being made by a company to ensure no ‘greenwashing’ is afoot.
Some companies are also now carrying Nest standard products. Nest is similar to Fair Trade certification, but while Fair Trade ensures that factory, farm and fishery workers are treated ethically, Nest sets standards for labor conditions for artisans worldwide who work out of their homes, which impacts female artisans in particular. Women form a majority of the 300 million or so ‘homeworkers’ estimated to be active globally. After agriculture, craft-based work is the second largest employer of women in developing economies. Nest is a non-profit that supports these women and is an excellent certification to look for and to demand of companies selling homewares made by artisans.
As with many of the products I 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).
If a company does not mention the source of their raw materials, their use of chemicals during manufacture, or other relevant considerations, ask. This might mean emailing, calling, or writing to the company with specific questions about certifications and processes. If the company makes products that are eco-friendly, they are very likely to respond with enthusiasm. And, if they don’t, the more of us who ask these questions, the more likely a company is to feel pressure to change their practices.