Textile Ecolabelling: Where we stand now, and the way forward

By Eng. (Dr.) Varuni Jayasooriya


With the growth of consumerism, clothing manufacturing has emerged as one of the mass-production industries in the world. There are several synonyms for the clothing industry: the fashion industry, garment industry, textile industry, and apparel industry. It covers various standard processes, including design, manufacturing, transportation, selling, using, reusing, and disposal of garments. The clothing manufacturing process has progressed as an art and fashion with several technological changes throughout the years. According to economists, the present clothing industry is one of the significant contributors to the economy of many countries. Similarly, in Sri Lanka, more than 15% of the workforce is engaged in the clothing industry. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan clothing industry designs and manufactures clothes and garments distributed to the local and international markets.

The textile industry is a significant contributor to several global environmental impacts. Life Cycle Assessment is a standard tool to investigate the likely ecological effects across all life cycle stages of clothing manufacturing. Some of the expected environmental impacts are processing and manufacturing-related wastewater discharge, solid waste production, and significant depletion of resources due to water consumption, minerals, fossil fuels, and considerable energy consumption. The environmental repercussions from a particular textile industry could vary depending on the raw materials such as chemicals or dyes used and the processes associated with finishing. The environmental damage during the raw material acquisition stage is often overlooked in the textile manufacturing life cycle. During the farming stage for natural fibers, several ecological implications could arise due to changes in soil quality by the excessive application of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and deforestation.

The overall impact for the ecosystems is considerably high from oil and chemical industries during synthesizing of chemical fiber. As synthesizing polyester and other synthetic garments are considered energy-intensive processes, large amounts of crude oil are consumed during this stage. As a result, emissions, including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, are released, with respiratory diseases are in sight. In addition, most developed countries use landfills for garment disposal even though there is a potential for many garments to be reused due to their durability and high quality.

Recognizing opportunities to shift the buyer’s focus towards Eco-fashion can broadly support minimizing the adverse environmental impacts of textile manufacturing. The International Standard Organization (ISO) has developed standards to identify garments that are manufactured sustainably. These standards support enhancing the quality of production inputs and ensure the ultimate quality of output. Consumers worldwide are now concerned more than ever about the environmental sustainability of the products they purchase.  In addition to ISO standards, ecolabelling has become one of the critical components in assisting this process via facilitating informed decision-making. In the recent past, getting their products ecolabelled has evolved substantially popular among clothing manufacturers worldwide.

Ecolabel is a legitimately secured label granted for a product to guarantee that the product adheres to a particular predetermined ecological and social criterion. Thus, ecolabels assist in marketing goods to a broader consumer base highlighting product sustainability and social welfare throughout the production life cycle. Several Asian countries export their products to international markets while promoting the products through well-established ecolabelling programs. China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and India are some of the known examples that gained popularity for sustainable production among international consumers by introducing ecolabelling schemes for their textile products. Accordingly, internationally accepted ecolabels are fast becoming a vital element in the Sri Lankan textile manufacturing sector.

What is an ecolabel?

Ecolabel is a legally protected label awarded to a product ensuring that it complies with predetermined environmental and social criteria. Ecolabel is granted by the relevant authority that the environmental leadership embodied in the product. Although there are two types of ecolabels as voluntary and mandatory, both are essential components in promoting products with minor or negative environmental impacts during their life cycle. Some ecolabels consider both environmental and social welfare, while others focus on either environmental or social welfare. During the recent decades, many textile industries paid attention to reducing negative social and environmental impacts while gaining expected profits.

According to the Ecolabel Index, the largest global directory of ecolabels, there are 463 ecolabels in 199 countries and 25 industry sectors. Among these 463 ecolabels, 107 ecolabels are used in the textile industry. Some of these ecolabels are unique ecolabels for a specific country, such as Eco-Leaf, Ecomark: India, Ecomark: Japan, and Green Mark, whereas certain ecolabels are adopted by several countries worldwide. Some globally renowned textile ecolabels are Blue Angel, Green Seal, Nordic Swan, and EU Flower. The ‘Blue Angel’ ecolabel, which the German government initiates, is the oldest ecolabel in the world and is applied for around 80 products, including textiles.

The ISO has classified the existing ecolabels into Type Ⅰ, Type Ⅱ, and Type Ⅲ. Each of these three types of ecolabels is aligned with a specific ISO standard as 1) Type Ⅰ: ISO 14024, 2) Type II : ISO 14021, and 3) Type III: ISO 14025. Nordic Swan and Blue Angle are considered examples of Type Ⅰ ecolabels. Greenguard and EU Energy Label are classified as Type II ecolabels, whereas Eco- Leaf and SCS Sustainable Choice fall under the Type III ecolabels. Type I ecolabels are considered independent as these ecolabels are focused on ambitious criteria of the environment quality. [1] Furthermore, these ecolabels evaluate all environmental impacts throughout the life cycle, such as energy consumption, water consumption, waste disposal, and emissions. Type II ecolabels are internal ecolabels that are not assigned by any independent authority. In general, Type III ecolabels are different from the other two types as the relevant environmental parameters of a particular ecolabel are decided by a qualified third party. Table 1 shows a comparison of Type I, I, and III ecolabels.

Table 1: Comparison of Type I, II, and III Ecolabels

Type I ecolabel

Type II ecolabel

Type IIII ecolabel

  • Transparency
  • Consumer awareness: adequate publicity to ensure recognition of the label and its credibility
  • Endorsement by key stakeholders
  • Ensuring stringent, significant and up-to-date criteria developed with stakeholder participation to maintain credibility
  • Harmonization of criteria between different Type I schemes, in line with above, to facilitate use by producers
  • Robust data checks
  • Visibility of logo on Product
  • Affordable application process
  • Appropriate selection of products
  • Market penetration
  • Framework to prevent Invalid claims: Misleading advertisement directive
  • Potentially some form of verification or data checks
  • Sector approach to achieve consensus on significant environmental impacts
  • Issue of conflict with Type I needs to be addressed
  • Label format tailored to end-user, e.g., consumer vs.Professional purchaser
  • Standard label parameters and methodology to be developed by industry sector/product group (with significant stakeholder involvement) to enable comparability between products. Preferably harmonized at International or European level to increase cost-effectiveness
  • Set common Life Cycle analysis and system boundaries
  • Data transferable to Type I label & vice-versa
  • Access to data
  • Control to ensure validity of approach and data, e.g.: verification by trusted 3rd party of life cycle data for Type I and III would reduce costs

Source: Final report, DG Environment, European Commission (2000)[2]

Pros and Cons of ecolabelling

The main goal of an ecolabel is to present details about the environmental impacts of the particular product during its whole or fraction of the life cycle. An ecolabel aids industry to attract consumers who are highly concerned about the environment and the products they consume. Therefore, ecolabels are beneficial for typical consumers with less or no expertise in the technical background of sustainable manufacturing to make environmentally conscious decisions while fulfilling their needs. Furthermore, ecolabels enhance the demand and supply of green products and services in local and international markets. In addition, ecolabels provide the product a competitive advantage over similar products with no environmental certification or a label. Additionally, they encourage innovations and technological advancements to reduce resource consumption and negative environmental impacts. Thus, ecolabels have three significant advantages; 1) avoiding the misleading of environmental advertising, 2) raising consumer awareness and encourage them to make environmentally preferable decisions and, 3) providing market-based incentives with more negligible environmental impacts on products and production.

Although ecolabels are supposed to encourage sustainable consumption and production, it should also be noted that certain limitations exist as an integral part of their application. Especially in developing countries, there are reported concerns over greenwashing products due to several voluntary and unregulated ecolabels alongside the redundancy of multiple ecolabels certifying the same aspects. Moreover, the reputed and well-regulated ecolabels follow a higher cost factor which creates hindrances in applying these for small and medium industries. However, amidst all these limitations, the textile industry has remained one of the industries in which ecolabels have become popular tools that act as drivers in maintaining a more extensive consumer base in both import and export markets.

Textiles and Ecolabels

Sustainable textiles utilize a minimum amount of natural resources and toxic chemicals during production. Therefore, such products generate minimum waste and emissions to the environment over the life cycle while maintaining the environmental and social factors optimally throughout the supply chain. Internationally accepted ecolabels are rapidly becoming popular in Sri Lankan industrial sector to market their products by highlighting sustainability and social welfare. Although the life cycle of a textile includes all processes from raw material extraction, garment manufacturing, and disposal of the garment, different system boundaries are considered during the ecolabel framework development. Four types of ecolabels can be applied based on the stage of the life cycle of the garment. They are (1) cradle to grave, (2) cradle to gate, (3) gate to grave, and (4) gate to gate ecolabels, respectively. Among these ecolabel types, when considering the manufacturing process happening within the local system boundary, gate to gate ecolabel could be identified as the most suitable Type of ecolabel, which is applicable to assess the life cycle impacts of the Sri Lankan textile industry.

Sri Lankan Textile Industry and Ecolabelling

In the 70s, Sri Lanka has shifted away from a socialist orientation and rapidly opened the economy to foreign investment. Therefore, after 1977, the textile industry has started to play a pivotal role in the Sri Lankan economy, and by 1986, it has become the largest export industry in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, since 1992, the clothing sector is the largest net foreign exchange earner in Sri Lanka while accounting for 52% of total export earnings (US$ 2.424 trillion) by 2002.[3] More than a thousand textile industries in Sri Lanka, of which more than 500 are small-scale industries with less than ten employees. However, more than 65% of enterprises among these are located near Colombo. Furthermore, with the advancement of the Sri Lankan textile industry, various legislation and regulations were implemented by the Board of Investment.

In Sri Lanka, four ecolabels are currently applied in the textile industry. They are ‘Fairtrade, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), IMO Certified, and Natuland e. V.’. Table 2 summarizes the above four ecolabels in terms of the countries of application, criteria considered, and the scope covering the life cycle of the textiles.

Table 2: Ecolabels applied in Sri Lankan Textile Industry



Countries of Application




Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Kuwait, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand etc.

Environmental- Biodiversity, energy use/ efficiency, forests, GMOs, natural resources, pesticides/ herbicides/ fungicides, soil, toxics, waste, water use

Community services, cultural/ indigenous/minority right, diversity, fair trade, gender, housing/ living conditions, human rights, labor relations/ human resource policies, training and education, worker health condition, work safety and other

Cradle to gate (Mining/ extraction to trade)

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Homh Kong, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Taiwan, US, United Kingdom (UK) etc.

Environmental- Chemicals, GMOs, Material use, natural resources, pesticides/ herbicides/ fungicides, soil, toxics, wastewater/ sewage, water quality

cultural/ indigenous/ minority rights, gender, human rights, labor relations/ human resource policies, training and education, worker health condition, work safety

Gate to gate (Commodity production to consumer use)

IMO Certified

Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, China, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, Taiwan, US, UK etc.

Chemicals, forests, pesticides/ herbicides/ fungicides, soil, toxics

Gate to grave (Product processing and product recovery/ recycling)

Naturland e.V.

Germany, Mexico, Sri Lanka

Animal welfare, biodiversity, chemicals, forests, GMOs, natural resources, pesticides/ herbicides/ fungicides, soil, toxics

Community services, cultural/ indigenous/ minority right, fair trade, gender, human rights, labor relations/ human resource policies, training and education, worker health condition, work safety

Gate to gate (Processing)

Source: Ecolabel Index (2021)[4]

Future of Sri Lankan Textile Ecolabelling

Several Asian countries in the international export market currently promote their products through unique ecolabelling programs. Some examples of the countries that reached market success through introducing region-specific ecolabels are China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and India. There has been an increase in demand for their products in recent years after introducing products with country-specific ecolabels. Under these conditions, there will be competition among industries within the countries to comply with these ecolabels. As a result, the number of certified products will increase and gain a competitive advantage over the countries that export similar products. Statistics of the Ministry of Finance of China indicate that, after introducing unique ecolabels, the total volume of environmentally labeled products in China has reached 715.45 billion Yuan during 2008-2015. It has supported opening the nation’s international market for a variety of other products. It indicates that the unique ecolabels contributed to the economy, sustainability, and social welfare in China. Hence, the ecolabels developed with the country’s conditions are significant in entering the international market and compete against the competition.

According to the new regime of international trade agreements under the World Trade Organization, the textile and clothing production processes should comply with the local and global environmental standards. Furthermore, since there is a massive competition for textile products globally, Sri Lankan clothes and garments should be on par when competing with other countries on informed decision-making related to their environmental sustainability during the life cycle.  Therefore, it is evident that there is a need for a country-specific ecolabel for the textile exports even though they have already gained a reputation as high quality and well-finished products in the international market.

During the past few decades, the environment has faced immeasurable stress due to the anthropogenic activities of the industrial sector. It has become a heated debate since we see its consequences in both direct and indirect ways. Therefore, many are currently attempting to change their attitudes towards survival by practicing sustainable production and consumption. Consequently, the concept of ‘green products’ is increasingly recognized presently throughout the world. Under this scenario, eco-friendly products have high potential in the local and international market, as consumers tend to purchase eco-certified products even though they could be exorbitant. Therefore, there is a timely need for the Sri Lankan textile industry to develop a local ecolabel to assess the environmental performance of their products to assist the informed decision-making of consumers in the international market.


[1] UNOPS 2009, A guide to environmental labels - for procurement practitioners of the United Nations system

[2] Allison, C and Carter, A 2000, ‘Study on different types of environmental labelling (ISO Type II and III Labels): proposal for an environmental labelling strategy’, Final report of DG environment in European Commission, Environmental Resource Management, North Hinksey Lane.

[3] Dheerasinghe, R 2009, ‘Garment industry in Sri Lanka challenges, prospects and strategies’, Staff studies33(1).

[4] http://www.ecolabelindex.com/


Eng. (Dr.) Varuni Jayasooriya

Eng. (Dr). Varuni Jayasooriya currently works as a SeniorLecturer at the Department of Forestry and EnvironmentalScience, Faculty of Applied Sciences, University of SriJayewardenepura, Sri Lanka.




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