An instrument for clarifying sustainability in textiles and fashion
The Shades of Green instrument has been developed to structure environmental and social sustainability information of products in a simple yet comprehensive and actionable form. It aims to clarify sustainability communication, making it easier to understand and compare the multi-faceted sustainability aspects of textile and fashion items.
Today, understanding and comparing the sustainability aspects of items is challenging due to a variety of different third-party verified sustainability labels and free-form sustainability communication. The Shades of Green instrument, being positioned between the two, offers transparent and comparable information, supporting consumers in making better decisions for the planet and people.
The instrument maps both the environmental and social aspects throughout a product’s lifecycle focusing on design, materials, production, support services and working conditions. It has three levels, the minimum integration, the advanced integration, and the innovation, demonstrated as a staircase with different shades of green. In order to meet the instrument criteria, companies need to be well on the way of developing the sustainability of their products. Many of the fashion items of today do not qualify and remain outside of the instrument levels, on the brown level.
The academically rooted Shades of Green instrument has been developed in the FINIX research project on sustainable textile systems by Postdoctoral researcher Linda Turunen and Professor of Sustainability Management Minna Halme.
The three levels of environmental and social sustainability
The instrument categorizes products into three different levels based on their environmental and social sustainability features. The criteria at the levels build upon each other, meaning that the requirements at the lighter green levels must be met before moving to the darker green levels.
This way, it acknowledges the process-like nature of sustainability and encourages companies to strive towards the higher levels.
Turunen, L.L.M., & Halme, M. (2021). Communicating actionable sustainability information to consumers: The Shades of Green instrument for fashion. Journal of Cleaner Production, 297, 126605
The light green level considers actions that reduce harm in the current fashion system.
From an environmental perspective, this refers to using environmentally preferred raw materials, eliminating hazardous chemicals, and reducing production-related waste.
From a social perspective, this refers to assuring transparent and decent working conditions in the apparel manufacturing phase.
The medium green level considers actions that are more forward-looking.
From an environmental perspective, this refers to designing for recyclability, using materials already in the cycle, improving material efficiency, and offering services to boost the usage times.
From a social perspective, this refers to transparency and assuring decent working conditions additionally in the material production phase.
The dark green level considers actions that are centered around doing good by providing innovative, highly sustainable solutions.
From an environmental perspective, this refers to systemic durability throughout product lifetime, using innovatively sustainable materials, near zero waste production, and offering product-service systems.
From a social perspective, this refers to transparency and assuring responsible working conditions throughout the supply chain.
The instrument development process
The Shades of Green instrument development process has included three phases by far and is still ongoing.
In the first phase, the instrument logic was grounded in previous literature and then refined based on 12 stakeholder interviews with companies, NGOs and experts.
In the second phase, the early version of the instrument was piloted with an online marketplace for sustainable fashion and at the same time, iterative workshops were held with 50 sustainability-oriented consumers and 45 company representatives.
Finally in the third phase, 14 textile and fashion companies of different types were involved in testing the instrument for their products.
During the three phases, a true need for a simple yet comprehensive instrument to support sustainability communication towards consumers was confirmed, and valuable refining and modification needs and ideas were pointed out.
All photos by Anne Kinnunen (2021)
Next steps for the instrument
For the Shades of Green instrument to become operational, a number of further steps and further testing are needed. The main alternative pathways for implementing the instrument are 1) multi-stakeholder pathway and 2) commercial pathway.
In the multi-stakeholder pathway, the instrument would be hosted by an independent NGO or a network of specialized NGOs. The pathway would include further developing the criteria with international NGOs, academia and businesses, testing with consumers and companies, piloting the instrument, and defining the means of information verification.
In the commercial pathway, the instrument would be hosted by a respective trade association or by a company established for running the instrument management.
Shades of Green exhibition is part of Helsinki Design Week’s Designs for a Cooler Planet programme.
Where Väre building, Otaniementie 14, Espoo
Visit Book a visit to the exhibition here
During the exhibition, more information on the exhibited clothing items from pioneering Finnish brands is available here.
For further information on the Shades of Green instrument, see the article by Turunen, L. L. M. and Halme, M. (2021) “Communicating actionable sustainability information to consumers: The Shades of Green instrument for fashion”, published in Journal of Cleaner Production, available here.
For inquiries, please contact Linda Turunen with this form at the following email address.