Sustainable design: a journey through 5 product certifications

in sustainable design

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 (opened in a new window/tab), the sustainable interior design directory I curate.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Graphic of the 17 UN sustainable development goals.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>

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):

  1. No poverty

  2. Zero hunger

  3. Good health and wellbeing

  4. Quality education

  5. Gender equality

  6. Clean water and sanitation

  7. Affordable and clean energy

  8. Decent work and economic growth

  9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure

  10. Reduced inequalities

  11. Sustainable cities and communities

  12. Responsible consumption and production

  13. Climate action

  14. Life below water

  15. Life on land

  16. Peace, justice and strong institutions

  17. Partnerships

More about UN Sustainable Development Goals on the official UN website (opened in a new window/tab)

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

Logo of the Cradle to Cradle Certified label.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>

The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ (opened in a new window/tab) 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.

Tall tables with Cradle to Cradle Certified™ stools.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Turnstone (opened in a new window/tab)

Cradle to Cradle Certified™ interior design products

Cradle to Cradle Certified™ lounge chair, stool and paint.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
  1. Adirondack chair - Loll designs (opened in a new window/tab) (Cradle Certified SILVER™) (opened in a new window/tab)
  2. Scoop stool - Turnstone
    Update: unfortunately this item doesn't looks certified anymore
  3. Airlite paint (opened in a new window/tab) (Cradle Certified GOLD™) (opened in a new window/tab)

2-3. FSC® – PEFC™ Labels

Logo of the FSC and PEFC labels.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>

FSC® (opened in a new window/tab) (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC™ (opened in a new window/tab) (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.

FSC® certfied chair styled with side table and flowers.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Takt (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

FSC® - PEFC™ certified interior design products

FSC® - PEFC™ certified benches and chair.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
  1. Wait it bench - Nola (opened in a new window/tab)
  2. Cross chair - Takt (opened in a new window/tab)
  3. Acaciawood bench - Raw Materials (opened in a new window/tab)

4. GOTS Label

Logo of the GOTS label.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>

The GOTS (opened in a new window/tab) (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.
GOTS certfied blanket styled on a bed.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: The Organic Company (opened in a new window/tab)

GOTS certified interior design products

GOTS certified napkin, blanket and bedding.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
  1. Bed blanket - The Organic Company (opened in a new window/tab)
  2. Timmery napkin - Libeco (opened in a new window/tab)
  3. Fawn bedding - CamCam (opened in a new window/tab)

5. GoodWeave™ Label

Logo of the GoodWeave label.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>

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 (opened in a new window/tab) certifies rugs and is based on 3 main principles:

  • No child labour
  • No forced or bonded labour
  • Documented and verifiable working conditions
Contemporary room with a GoodWeave™ certified rug.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: The Rug Company (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

GoodWeave™ certified interior design products

GoodWeave™ certified rugs.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
  1. SK006 - Studio Knot (opened in a new window/tab)
  2. Clark - The Rug Company (opened in a new window/tab)

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 (opened in a new window/tab), 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!

Cover image: The Rug Company (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

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Don't be shy, let me know what you think!

On Juan Sandiego said:
Thanks for putting this together. It’s very useful to see all these certifications in the same place.
On Silvia - DforDesign said:
Thanks Juan! There are so many certifications out there that it can get confusing...I'm really happy you found this useful!


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