The Future of Certifications
An overview of changing certification requirements for ZDHC, EIM – and their impact.
Certification programs for sustainability initiatives can be great tools for helping to get your company and supply chain aligned on sustainability goals. Scivera is proud to be a partner of a number of certification and scoring programs including Screened Chemistry, Jeanologia’s EIM, Nike Innovation Assessments, ZDHC, LHAMA, and GEC EPEAT. With programs like the European Commission’s Green Deal and brand initiatives like LS&Co’s sustainability report moving the definition of safer chemistry forward and more information coming out about the impacts of chemical hazards on humans and the environment, many scoring and certification programs are reevaluating how they define “safer chemistry.”
Recently, Jeanologia and ZDHC both announced changes to their programs showing a shift in certification trends. Let’s take a look and discuss the impacts of changing certification requirements.
ZDHC has a certification framework in place for the apparel, footwear, textile, and leather industries. In November 2022, ZDHC announced a series of changes to their Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) conformance program:
- PFAS Ban and MRSL Update: The largest change to the ZDHC MRSL was the ban of PFAS from materials along with further restrictions and reclassifications of other problematic chemicals. This isn’t a surprising change given the carcinogenic qualities of these forever-chemicals, and we’re seeing similar restrictions happening in governmental regulations from many states in the US as well as the EU Green Deal. You can read more about ZDHC’s MRSL 3.0 and view the updated list here.
- Verification Requirements: In order to help ensure that products meet ZDHC requirements, ZDHC is now requiring companies to show that they have the capability to conduct Chemical Hazard Assessments (CHAs) internally. This is a significant shift in the ZDHC program to help push back against greenwashing. The hope is that if companies have the ability to conduct CHAs, they will utilize these CHAs in their chemical management and safety processes to create safer products. Especially given that the EU Green Deal will require companies to show complete and verified CHAs for all products shown in the EU by 2050, it makes sense that ZDHC is creating a pathway for companies to meet that eventuality.
- Certification Level Updates: One of the results of both the MRSL update and verification changes is that the criteria that companies will be required to show in order to become ZDHC certified are stricter. Companies will need to know more about the chemicals they are using and sourcing to better understand their impacts. This, in turn, will help result in safer products and a more chemically-sustainable future.
Jeanologia announced major revisions to their EIM program this year. EIM measures multiple components—water and energy use, worker and environmental health—to assess an environmental impact score. Previously, the chemistry portion was assessed on Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) alone with credit given for ZDHC certification.
Now, suppliers will be able to improve their chemical impact score based on providing better transparency on the chemicals included in their products and the impact of those chemicals. For suppliers who provide SDS disclosure and ZDHC conformance, they can list their products on the EIM platform and are recognized for ZDHC conformance levels. As suppliers provide additional disclosure of 100% of ingredients and complete a Chemical Hazard Assessment (CHA)—or choose to pursue Screened Chemistry certification which includes 100% of ingredients with a CHA as well as impurities and polymer assessment information—they can increase their chemical impact scores to show customers that additional work has been done to create more transparency and evaluate chemicals more thoroughly, thus ensuring not just compliance but safer chemistries resulting in safer products.
This tiered point system was created in part to give credit to and meet chemical suppliers (and brands) where they are in their sustainable chemistry journey, as it both provides credit for the commitment companies have already been made to programs like ZDHC, while also encouraging better transparency and understanding of the impacts chemicals have on workers, consumers, and the environment. Programs like EIM and their brand partners acknowledge that Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)—which are a commonly used resource to assess safety—can actually be incomplete or inaccurate, and thus can be a relatively poor method of assessing safety. So, by taking this into account and providing tools for companies to move toward better chemical sustainability practices, EIM is reflecting the rapidly evolving journey most brands and suppliers currently find themselves on .
There is a lot of concern from companies using certification programs as a means to meet certain sustainability metrics, in that as programs change, their sustainability claims may be impacted. They are worried that previous claims and good scores will not be recognized moving forward. As suppliers need to provide additional transparency and move toward a more thorough assessment of those chemicals, there may be a gap in claims and new learnings.
We recognize the dilemma, as companies don’t get credit for “work in progress,” but there’s another way to see this: with these changes we are taking steps as a society to move away from what can be viewed as greenwashing and move toward methodologies that will help to make products truly safer and more sustainable. Additionally, with the CHA requirements that the EU will be instituting by 2050, companies will need to pivot to CHA-based chemistry management programs, so why not get a head start today?
All of these changes are sustainability positives, and we laud ZDHC and Jeanologia for taking these steps. We’re hopeful this trend will continue to move in the direction of greater adoption of better transparency and Chemical Hazard Assessments (CHAs) into certification programs. CHAs help to build safe products from the start, as you can see the toxicity of a chemical as well as its environmental and health impacts. This is extremely important since approximately 85% of problematic chemicals aren’t on any restricted or regulatory substances list. Because of this, using CHAs is the best pathway we have to create circular products, which would naturally result in safer wastewater, air, worker environments, and products. Read more about how CHAs can help push your sustainability efforts forward, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.