Summary

Since 1978, the German Blue Angel has set the standard for eco-friendly goods and services. It is a state-initiated label where the criteria are adopted by an independent jury including representatives of civil organisations, consumer and environmental NGOs and the industry. In line with the international standard for eco-labelling, ISO 14024, the Blue Angel as a so-called Type I Eco-label is designed to promote goods and services that have – based on the entire life cycle – reduced environmental and health impacts compared to the market average. Combined with other environmental policy instruments, eco-label initiatives can play their part to restructure the economy towards sustainable development.

The Blue Angel for textiles was released in December, 2010 on the initiative of the Environmental Label Jury and approved by the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. The main aim of the Blue Angel for textiles (reference code: RAL-UZ 154) is to provide reliable guidance for sustainable textiles based on environmental and consumer safety.

The standard is built around four principles: better environmental standards in the manufacturing process, improving occupational safety and health, avoiding harmful chemical substances in the product, and good usability.

The Blue Angel standard is a holistic approach that takes all the above aspects into consideration.

Detailed information can be found in the RAL-documentation (currently only in German, soon also in English) here or by getting in contact with the RAL gGmbH team.

Governance

The Blue Angel standard is owned by the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, based in Berlin. Decisions for the Blue Angel programme are made by the independent Environmental Label Jury, which is composed of representatives from environmental and consumer associations, trade unions, industry, trade, crafts, local authorities, science, media, churches and federal states. In addition, the German government authorised the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) to act as the office of the Environmental Label Jury and to develop the technical criteria for the Blue Angel and for RAL gGmbH (Deutsches Institut für Gütezeichen) to award the Blue Angel certification.

Scope

The Blue Angel standard, as it relates to textiles, addresses two main textile product groups.

Garments and Accessories: The composition of textile garments and textile accessories must include a minimum of 90% textile fibres by weight.

Interior/Home Textiles: The composition of textile products in the field of interior/home textiles must include a minimum of 90% textile fibres by weight.

Market Acceptance

The Blue Angel certification is open for international textile manufacturers and service providers, though currently only 15% of the total Blue Angel eco-label holders are companies located outside of Germany. Surveys by the Ministry for the Environment and UBA show that the Blue Angel is recognised by almost 80% of the end-consumers in Germany for a wide range of consumer goods. As of the beginning of 2012 about 13.000 products by 1.250 companies within 120 categories carry the Blue Angel eco-label.

In the beginning of 2011, two new groups, ‘textiles’ (reference code: RAL-UZ 154) and ‘shoes’ (reference code: RAL-UZ 155), were added among various other product groups to the Blue Angel programme.

Criteria

Water Consumption

The Blue Angel standard emphasises to the manufacturer the reduction and optimisation of resources, including freshwater, which should be used in a responsible way.

Water Emissions

In the textile process, the waste water requirements for the direct discharge of waste water into running water must conform to specific values relating to oxygen demands, chemical content and toxicity. Additionally, the pH-value of the effluent must be between the parameters of 6 and 9 (unless the pH of the receiving water is outside this range). The temperature has to be less than 40°C (unless the temperature of the receiving water is outside this range).

These requirements do not apply if the applicant can attest that the discharge of their waste water into a community waste water treatment plant has been authorised by the state authority.

The community waste water treatment plant needs to fulfill the restriction requirements which are detailed in the communal waste water regulation report (91/271/EWG) of May, 21st 1991, by the community council.

Furthermore, each raw material fibre has some specific restrictions due to its waste water requirements.

Additionally there are specific requirement for the biodegradability of textile auxiliaries, finishing agents and auxiliaries for fibres and yarns.

Chemicals (Accepted/Restricted)

The Blue Angel standard regulates the use of chemicals during different processing states regarding their environmental impact on air and water, as well as their impact on human health and safety. Generally, it bans process chemicals that are toxic, carcinogenic, genetically harmful or toxic for reproduction, toxic to aquatic organisms, or cause ozone depletion based on the classification of GHS regulation (Globally Harmonized System of classification and of labeling of chemicals: EG/1272/2008).

Also banned are process chemicals that are listed as Substances of Very High Concern according to the candidate list of REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals: EG 1907/2006) chemical regulation.

Chemical Management

The Blue Angel sets no specific requirements on chemical management. Nevertheless, to prove the fulfillment of the requirements for waste water treatment and on prohibited substances, a reasonable chemical management system is necessary.

Consumer Safety

In addition to the prohibition of certain process chemicals, the Blue Angel for textiles sets criteria for specific product testing to minimise the danger of residues in the final product, e.g. formaldehyde, extractable heavy metals, hazardous colorants, phthalates and plasticisers, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), chlorophenols, organotin compounds, chlorinated benzenes and toluenes or dimethylformamide.

Air Emissions

The Blue Angel standard has precise requirements for air emissions during textile finishing processes. During thermosetting, the thermosol process, coating, impregnating or finishing a textile, including drying, the sum of organic substances as a carbon total must not surpass 0.8 g C/kg textile. Prior to carrying out the preceding processes, there is an additional allowed amount of 0.4g C/kg textile from manufacturing.

Furthermore, each raw material fiber has some specific restrictions due to air emission requirements. For the production of polyester and for the use of print pastes, there are emission requirements for volatile organic compounds.

Occupational Health and Safety

The Blue Angel standard bans process chemicals that are toxic, carcinogenic, genetically harmful or toxic for reproduction. It also excludes certain harmful substances during the manufacturing process, e.g. aromatic diisocyanates during the polymerisation and spinning process of synthetic fibres, the use of aromatic and halogenated solvents, biocides or flame retardants.

Management System

The environmental management systems EMAS and ISO 14001 are recommended as guidelines.

Social Responsibility

The Blue Angel standard’s basic principles and rights in relation to working conditions are equal to the prevailing labor norms of the International Labor Organisation (ILO). In order to receive a Blue Angel eco-labeling certification, there must be a guarantee that the entire supply chain has, at a minimum, complied with ILO standards:

  • Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87)
  • Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98)
  • Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
  • Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)
  • Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)
  • Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)
  • Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100)
  • Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111)
Packaging

For the packaging of Blue Angel certificated products, no halogen-containing polymers are allowed. A picture of a sample of the packaging has to be handed in to the RAL gGmbH for inspection.

Usability

There are limitations for dimensional changes during washing and drying, and requirements regarding colour fastness to washing, rubbing and perspiration.

Consumer Information

Declaration on fibre composition must be made according to directive 96/74/EG. Notes for the care and cleaning must be made according to GINETEX (www.ginetex.de).

Raw Materials

Natural fibres have to be of organic origin. Different requirements exist for synthetic fibres depending on the specific type of fibre.

Detailed information can be found in the RAL-documentation (currently only in German, soon also in English) here or by getting in contact with the RAL gGmbH team.

Certification

On Site Audits or Desktop Review

Different kinds of verification, e.g. declarations and third party testing, are exactly laid down in the respective criteria. Applications must be submitted to RAL gGmbH, where they will be verified via desktop review. Onsite inspections are normally not requested unless stated in the criteria. At the moment this is not requested in the textile criteria.

Unannounced Inspections/Other Inspections

If necessary, the contract with the license holder allows further reviews or even inspections in addition to the application.

Process

The application must be sent to the RAL gGmbH, based in Sankt Augustin Germany, for verification proof.

The applicant hands in to the RAL gGmbH all necessary files to assure fulfillment of the criteria, including a standard form which shows the exact material composition of their end-product. In addition to the application file, the documentation will be completed with a color picture of the applied product model.

Any product testing has to be carried out by an ISO/IEC 17025 or equivalent certified laboratory which is accepted by the RAL gGmbH. Laboratory reports addressing the specific requirements must not be more than two years old on the date of the application request. The different application requests for the individual contents of the materials and their usability are not allowed to be older than one year on the date of the application request.

Timing

As of publication, there is no product group or product certified with the Blue Angel ‘textile’ (RAL-UZ 154) standard. Due to that fact, that the more complex the product or the service will be, the more extensive the verification phase will be. The timeline from applying for certification to product placement on the market could take up to half a year depending on the complexity of the criteria and quality of the application and files submitted.

Frequency

According to the contract, the license holder agrees to comply with specific Blue Angel criteria throughout the duration of using the eco-labeling on the market. Any essential modifications within the supply chain must be passed forward to RAL gGmbH. In such cases a new report can be demanded by RAL gGmbH.

Certification and License Fee

The one-time application fee of 250 Euros must be paid to RAL gGmbH in Sankt Augustin. The costs for using the Blue Angel certification label are dependent on the yearly turnover of the designated products or services within the product group. For detailed information see the respective contribution scheme.

Labels

Process

Once the application is accepted, RAL gGmbH concludes a contract on the use of the label. The applicant agrees to fulfill all criteria during contract duration.

Applicability

License holders may use the Blue Angel standard certification once the trademark agreement with the RAL gGmbH has been signed.

For having the rights of labeling products with the Blue Angel, a contract has to be signed. Using the eco-labeling for publicity purposes or product labeling after the cancelation of the agreement is strictly prohibited. Whereas if by the time of the cancelation of the agreement, there are still products on the market, they are excluded of the mentioned regulation.

The license is valid as long as the duration of the Blue Angel standard. The current criteria for textiles are valid till 2013. The Blue Angel criteria for each product group are revised every 3-4 years.

License holders (manufacturers or suppliers) can make a new request to the RAL gGmbH in case new criteria are decided upon by the Environmental Label Jury. All other changes e.g. relevant changes of ingredients or materials, a change of the brand name or a change of the trade name must be referred to RAL gGmbH.

The standard contract contains: License holder (manufacturer or supplier), brand or trade name, description of the product, and distributer and all other duties to be fulfilled by both parties.

Fee

The one-time application fee of 250 Euros must be paid to RAL gGmbH in Sankt Augustin. The costs for using the Blue Angel certification label are dependent on the yearly turnover of the designated products or services within the product group. For detailed information see the respective contribution scheme.

Graphic Example

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