Summary

The bluesign® standard is an independent industry initiative that was released in 2000 in response to the demand for environmentally friendly textile products. The standard was developed and is kept up-to-date by bluesign technologies® AG. bluesign® also offers support services to the textile industry for implementation of the standard and thus has a double role.

bluesign technologies® AG’s goal is that products used in the fabrication and finishing of natural and synthetic fibres be solely those which have met the strictest criteria worldwide and whose producers have subsequently been audited by bluesign. bluesign technologies AG screens entire production processes and issues recommendations for fully equivalent but harmless ingredients as an alternative.

The standard is built around five principles: resource productivity, consumer safety, air emission, water emission and occupational health and safety. The bluesign® standard is a holistic approach that takes all of the above aspects into consideration. It certifies products and product ranges, but not companies. Because the standard examines the complete environmental performance of a factory, improvement measures can be identified and managed in all relevant areas.

NOTE: The bluesign® standard basically addresses three different groups along the textile supply chain: chemical suppliers, manufacturers and brands & retailers. The core group is the manufacturers; therefore, the criteria below are mainly relevant for manufacturers.

Several brochures can be found here.

Governance

The bluesign® standard is managed and owned by bluesign technologies, a private company that is based in St. Gallen (Switzerland).

Scope

The bluesign® standard addresses the  textile industry as well as related and interconnected industries. The scope of the bluesign® standard includes:

  • textile products (chemical suppliers, manufacturers and brands & retailers)
  • leather products
  • components for textile products (accessories, fillings, membranes, etc.)
  • chemicals, auxiliaries and dyestuff used in manufacturing the above mentioned products
  • product care articles
  • technologies used for processing textiles
Market Acceptance

Regionally, bluesign® system partner brands are concentrated in Europe and the US; nevertheless, these brands are internationally recognised and distributed. Other bluesign® system partners include European, US-based, and Asian manufacturers.

The bluesign® standard has a strong representation in the outdoor clothing sector due to the high-tech processes and materials needed to make such clothing.

The following are bluesign® system partner brands: Helly Hansen ASA, JAKO-O GmbH, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Orsay GmbH, Patagonia Inc, Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), The North Face Inc., Qloom Sports GmbH, VAUDE Sport GmbH & Co. KG, Mammut AG, Haglofs, Klattermusen, Maier Sports, etc.

Overview of bluesign® system partners:
Total chemical suppliers: 34 (5% USA, 40% EUR, 55% ASIA)
Total textile manufacturers: 138 (5% USA, 15% EUR, 80% ASIA)
Total brands and Retailers: 32 (20% USA, 80%EUR)

Criteria

Energy Consumption

The bluesign® standard strives towards achieving a continuous reduction and optimisation of resources at the manufacturing site, the use of environmentally friendly fuel types, preferably renewable energy and if feasible, the re-use of residual thermal energy and installation of economisers.

Water Consumption

The bluesign® standard emphasises to the manufacturer the reduction and optimisation of resources, including freshwater. Cooling water shall also be reused as processed water; cases of direct discharge have to be well founded.

Water Emissions

The bluesign® standard requires proper end-of-pipe solutions to guarantee that no harmful substances are released into the environment.

The bluesign® standard uses various limits for waste water parameters such as COD, BOD, heavy metal content, TOC, AOX, GUS, Colour DFZ, nitrate, sulfate, etc.

A waste water treatment facility is always mandatory (in-house treatment is not necessary; communal wastewater treatment is accepted). The mode of operation of the wastewater treatment plant must be made available as a flowchart. The operator of the wastewater treatment (manufacturer or third party) has to have appropriate knowledge and technical equipment (for example, measurement instruments) on wastewater treatment processes. The efficiency of the wastewater treatment prior to direct discharge to the aquatic body shall be 85% or higher (COD measure).

In addition, the usage ban on the following components that are of significant relevance concerning water quality have to be respected in every case:

  • Chlorinated carriers
  • Hypochlorite as bleaching agent
  • Chlorite (exception extra white polyester for home textiles)
  • Alkylphenolethoxylates (APEO)
  • Cr (VI) as oxidising agent
  • Permanganate and periodate as bleaching or oxidising agent

Additionally, it is not allowed to discharge non-used residual amounts of chemical components to the wastewater.

Chemicals (Accepted/Restricted)

The bluesign® standard has calculated limit concentrations of some 800 substances based on their ecotoxicological impact. See the ‘bluesign® standard substances list (BSSL)’, Prior to production, every chemical component is assessed and receives a rating based on its ecotoxicological impact eliminating potentially harmful substances. Substances are rated blue and grey and black. Components in the “blue” category meet all of the bluesign standard’s criteria and requirements. Components with a “grey” rating shall only be used in the production process under certain conditions. Components rated “black” do not meet the bluesign standard.

As part of the certification process, bluesign technologies AG analyses all input streams – from raw materials, to chemical components, to resources. Thus, the bluesign® standard covers all substances on the Restricted Substances List (RSL) developed by the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and assures “compliance with the most stringent international regulations”. The bluesign® standard also facilitates compliance to the new European Community Regulation on Chemicals (REACH) legislation.

Consumer Safety

Regarding consumer safety, bluesign® standard defines restrictions and bans on residual chemical substances for consumer products made of textiles, leather and components for textile products (accessories, filings, membranes, etc.). The limits and bans are compiled in the bluesign® standard substances list (BSSL).

The bluesign® standard takes into consideration the following exposure routes concerning consumer safety:

  • Exposure to skin
  • Acute
  • Chronic
  • Oral intake
  • Mouthing (contact with or in the mouth for an extended period of time)
  • Swallowing
  • Inhalative exposure
  • Acute
  • Chronic

bluesign technologies indicates that realistic worst case exposure scenarios have been considered to define safe levels for these substances.

Air Emissions

For bluesign® certification, air emissions need to comply with strictly controlled emissions limits along the entire production chain.

Concerning off-gas emissions, state of the art technology (BAT or Best Available Technology) shall be implemented. Tailor-made off-gas abatement systems shall be installed, if relevant.

Occupational Health and Safety

The bluesign® standard approaches occupational health & safety management from two angles: on the input side and during the on-site screening.

  • On the input side, the bluesign® standard uses various exposure models to verify that the maximum workplace concentration limits are met.
  • During the on-site screening, bluesign technologies AG also considers proper handling of chemicals, and if necessary will give recommendations on general management practices regarding occupational health & safety. During a screening in critical situations bluesign technologies AG performs measurements of workplace conditions, or off-gas quality.
Management System

The bluesign® standard requests that the manufacturer has an appropriate management system which ensures that all aspects pertaining to Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) management are established and maintained. Especially the procedures that are induced by the bluesign® standard should be documented in a written format.

Record Keeping

All records and documents pertaining to EHS-aspects should be kept on file and promptly made available upon request.

Management Responsibilities/Roles

The manufacturer should appoint a management representative responsible for EHS and resource aspects. The representatives should report to top management on environmental performance. Implementation and maintaining of the requirements according to the bluesign® standard should be clearly defined and communicated internally as well as externally as an important overall environmental goal. The manufacturer should also ensure the availability of human, technical, organisational and financial resources to establish, maintain and improve the EHS aspects at the production site.

Trainings

The manufacturer should educate and train all employees to increase competence and environmental awareness. Training should be carried out periodically and training records kept on file.

Environmental Policy

In the case of a manufacturer, the organisation’s environmental policy needs to be available in a written format. The policy should include a commitment to environmental management and continuous improvement, to the prevention of pollution and optimisation of the resource efficiency.

Social Responsibility

According to the bluesign® standard, social responsibility should be at least confirmed by a self-assessment form that contains requirements, such as abolition of child labour, working hours, forced and compulsory labour, etc.

Best Available Technology

In order to ensure continuous improvement of the facility’s environmental performance, producers should be aware of the BAT that is relevant for the industry and should implement these techniques. This means always implementing the most advanced technological solution locally available.

Storage and Transportation

According to the bluesign® standard, all textile raw materials and finished textiles shall be stored and transported in an appropriate manner to avoid any cross-contamination.

Certification

On Site Audits or Desktop Review

On-site audit/screening is inherent to the bluesign® standard certification process.

Unannounced Inspections/Other Inspections

bluesign technologies AG reserves the right to conduct unannounced inspections.

Process

Phase 1: Preparation and screening:
As a first step, the applicant fills out a questionnaire with general information about the factory. When both a screening agreement and non-disclosure agreement with bluesign technologies AG has been signed, the on-site screening can be prepared. The manufacturer then provides more detailed data on the entire production process.

The screening is a comprehensive on-site evaluation of all input streams, processes used, and end-of-pipe situations based on the five principles (resource productivity, consumer safety, air emission, water emission, and occupational health and safety) of the bluesign® standard. During the bluesign® screening, the local environmental, resource, and workplace situation is analysed, and compared to “Best Available Technology”.

The focus of the inspection is:

  • Responsibilities pertaining to EHS management
  • EHS management procedures
  • Legal compliance (check of licenses, relevant limit values, measurement reports, other relevant documents and records)
  • General environmental performance (in case of re-screening: improvement of environmental performance)
  • Current status of the EHS-situation (in case of re-screening: improvement of EHS situation)
  • Control of Good Housekeeping Practices
  • Inspection of input streams (e.g. energy, water, textile auxiliaries, dyestuffs, basic chemicals, greige goods)
  • Inspection of mode of manufacturing with a focus on textile machinery and textile processes as well as supply units
  • Examination of output streams (esp. management of wastewater, air emission and solid waste)
  • Inspection of chemicals handling and storage situation
  • Evaluation of occupational health situation
  • In case of re-screening: verification, that the bluesign® standard is implemented and maintained in an appropriate way

The detailed data collected during the screening are then run through bluesign technologies’ mathematical models. The transparency of the entire production process allows bluesign technologies AG to identify various resource saving possibilities (compared to Best Available Technology). The bluesign® standard summarises these potentials in the so-called “Resource Inflation Factor” (RIF) which is an indicator of the efficiency and savings potential of resources such as water, energy, auxiliaries and chemicals.

During every screening these factors are calculated with a sophisticated mathematical model. These factors can also be a measure for improvement that shows how the manufacturing process comes closer to BAT after every screening.

The preparation and screening is summarised within a report containing recommendations and a roadmap, describing the necessary further steps to implement the bluesign® standard and certify products as ‘bluesign® approved fabric’.

Phase 2: Implementation:
The first step of the second phase is signing the system partner agreement. The manufacturer starts by implementing the recommendation(s) given in the screening report. Access to the bluesign® bluefinder is provided to support the manufacturer in chemical components management. bluesign technologies AG takes on a consulting role during the implementation process.

Once the implementation phase is completed, the product ranges that meet the bluesign® standard are analyzed to verify compliance. After successful analysis, “bluesign® approved fabric” certificates are issued for each compliant product range.

Timing

The preparation and screening necessary to implement the bluesign® standard may take 2 to 3 months.

The duration of Phase 2, or implementation, is mainly dependent on the performance of and challenges faced by the manufacturer in executing improvement plans.

Audit Team

Currently, certification can only be done by a consultant of bluesign technologies AG. Recently, bluesign technologies AG has reached an agreement with SGS, so in the future, SGS staff can also render bluesign® certification services.

Frequency

Every 2-3 years a re-screening similar to the initial screening is conducted at the manufacturing site. It guarantees compliance with the bluesign® standard in the long term. It also allows constant improvement of the EHS and resource situation at the manufacturing site.

Certification and License Fee

For the bluesign® standard, an important factor of consideration is the costs involved in certification, because the standard requires intensive assistance from an expert. There is no fixed fee; the costs are based on the complexity of the factory. If the factory is vertically integrated and uses many different chemical components in various processes, it takes more work and effort to conduct a screening.

For the first screening there is a onetime fee. If the factory decides to become a bluesign® system partner, there is a yearly fee. However, as a bluesign® system partner, they have access to the bluesign® bluefinder, and the re-screenings are also included in this yearly fee. The same cost model applies to all factories.

>The one-time screening fee and the yearly fee for the system partnership depend on the complexity of production. To estimate the cost, an initial questionnaire is sent to the customer to assess the situation. Important factors are number and complexity of different process steps and number of chemical products in use.

Based on these factors the fees can vary quite significantly. bluesign technologies AG emphasises that the important aspect is not the fee itself, but the return on investment; generally, the more complex facilities have a larger saving potential. Hence return on investment can generally be achieved within a matter of a few months.

Tools

The bluesign® standard is specifically set up to facilitate environmental management by a textile factory. It provides a management system designed from a textile factory’s perspective and aims to facilitate its implementation. The most important goal of the bluesign® standard is to achieve maximum resource productivity, as well as realisation of cost efficiency.

Several tools have been developed to facilitate implementation of the standard:

  • The bluesign® bluetool: software system to verify the compliance of each raw material component against the standard based on its ecotoxicological impact
  • The bluesign® bluefinder: an online database containing raw materials and components that are allowed under the bluesign® standard, and kept up-to-date with the newest textile-relevant EHS information
  • The bluesign® blueguide: an advanced database containing bluesign® approved fabrics.

Labels

The approach of the bluesign® label (or in bluesign® terminology, “end-user labeling”) is explained in detail in the relevant agreements and regulations concerning trademark use, which are part of the agreements document between bluesign technologies and its partner brand or manufacturer.

Process

System partner brands can use this kind of end-user labeling, however for products placed on the market by a company that is not a system partner, the “bluesign® approved fabric” label can only be used together with information about the textile finishing company that holds the “bluesign® approved fabric” certificate for the relevant fabric(s).

The non-system partners receive hangtags from the manufacturer. The design is defined from bluesign technologies. On the back of the hangtag there is a white area, where the manufacturer can put his logo and name. Non-system partners can only use this hangtag.

Applicability

If all components of an end-user product (as for example a garment) are bluesign® approved and are subsequently manufactured by a bluesign® system partner, the product itself can be labeled as “bluesign® product”.

For a bluesign® approved fabric:
Due to the fact that currently, especially regarding accessories, there is not a wide variety of bluesign® approved choices available, the label “bluesign® approved fabric” can be used as an end-consumer label also. However, at the latest by 2015, the end-user label with “bluesign® approved fabric” shall be phased out.

A pre-condition for using the “bluesign® approved fabric” end-user label is that 90% of the total surface area of the inner and outer layers must be bluesign® approved fabrics.  The inner and outer layers are defined as the visible parts of the product which can be easily mechanically separated from other components, and includes any prints on these layers.  The acceptable margin of error is 5 %.

Fee

The cost is included when the brand becomes a bluesign® partner.