STeP is the new certification system from Oeko-Tex for sustainable textile production

STeP is the new certification system from Oeko-Tex for sustainable textile production

The rollout of the new Sustainable Textile Production (STeP) certification system to evaluate environmentally friendly and socially responsible manufacturing facilities across the apparel supply chain continues to gather pace - with the scheme launching in the US, training its first auditors and awarding its first certificate in the past month alone.

Introduced "in response to market need," according to David Pircher, business development manager at the Oeko-Tex Association, which developed the tool, it has been designed to help fashion brands, retailers and manufacturers quickly and easily assess the sustainability of their suppliers - and help them identify new ones.

This can include facilities across the entire textile supply chain from fibre production, through spinning, weaving and knitting mills, to finishing facilities, garment manufacturers and accessories such as buttons, as well as textile logistics.

However, as Pircher told just-style, its remit does not include chemical companies, cotton fields or wool growers, or post-production stages such as transportation.

For textile and clothing manufacturers, the certification process can help improve efficiency by identifying areas for improvement, as well as the opportunity to forge new business relationships. 

But Oek-Tex also hopes the certification will be used to provide consumers with understandable and traceable documentation of a retailer's commitment to sustainability when sourcing its products.

The new web-based assessment tool replaces the Oeko-Tex 1000 label for environmentally friendly operations - and the first textile company to receive the STeP certificate is Swiss yarn manufacturer Hermann Bühler AG. 

Bühler Group CEO Martin Kägi notes "the issue of sustainability is more and more in the public eye," adding that the company has for some time focused on environmentally friendly production conditions.

"The certification for sustainable textile production is a confirmation for our actions so far and acts as further incentive."

The STeP system is intended to offer a single alternative to the existing range of independent certification schemes covering conditions in the textile supply chain - many of which just look at isolated issues like CO2 footprint or use of renewable raw materials.

At its heart is a 'modular analysis' that scores production facilities on issues such as quality management, use of chemicals, environmental performance, environmental management, social responsibility, and health and safety.

This model means STeP-certified companies can compare themselves with other firms in the sector, align themselves with examples of best practice, and work on continuous improvement.

Following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in April with the loss of more than 1,100 lives, and subsequent initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic to tackle factory and building safety, Pircher is keen to point out that this also forms part of the STeP evaluation of production facilities.

Included in its assessment are safe construction of buildings and escape plans, along with whether or not a system is in place for reporting concerns about building safety.

The certification process itself is broken down into a series of steps, including completion of an online questionnaire. This is followed up by an auditor, who will visit the production facility and verify if the information is correct. If the criteria are met, a STeP certificate will be issued.

Oeko-Tex can tap into its network of 15 member testing and research institutes and representative offices in over 60 countries - and instead of turning to external inspectors, has already trained its first 50 in-house auditors.

Next projects in the pipeline include incorporating the Oeko-Tex 100-plus standard, which combines the Oeko-Tex 100 label evaluating the use of harmful substances and the former 1000 (now STeP) certification for environmentally friendly production.

The combination will indicate that "a product is sustainably produced and safe," Pircher explains - adding another layer to the increasingly complex process of chemicals management in the textile supply chain.