What does 'Ethical Down' mean?
Down is the most efficient insulation for clothing and sleeping bags; it is much warmer for a given weight than other insulators and it is long lasting. Over the years, there have been some issues surrounding the ethical nature of down products and how they are produced.
The most ethically sourced down is that gathered from nests, however this is a time consuming process which is not feasible for production processes. Down is also recovered 'ethically' as a bi-product of the meat industry when birds are killed for food, this is the most common source of ethical down. Due to questions surrounding the true ethical nature many companies are now involved in RDS (Responsible Down Standards) which provides independent accreditation for companies certify their goods if they can abide by these standards.
The down used in outdoor gear is a natural byproduct of the food industry; the waterfowl which provide the warm insulation have been farmed or raised for food, not their feathers. By using the plumage for natural insulation, it helps to reduce the amount of agricultural waste
Why use down for insulation?
According to the IDFB (International Down and Feather Bureau), down is the environmentally friendly choice outdoor gear, as it:
Is biodegradable – As a natural product it decomposes and goes back to the earth;
Conserves resources – As a by-product of the food industry, no resources are going to waste, and no byproducts are being put into landfills;
Is renewable – Synthetic fill materials are often composed of non-renewable resources like oil, whereas down and feathers are renewable resources.
Overall, down and feather products require a lower carbon footprint to produce than synthetics. Furthermore, Down is long lasting and only needs to be fluffed up to keep its loft and its insulating ability for outdoor gear does not diminish.
Ensuring down is fully traceable back to its source is a way of making sure that the duck & geese farmers adhere to the standards that a brand want to set for the production of the down they are using. These standards are principles and agreements that safeguards the welfare of the fowl.
Restrictions may include the prohibiton of force-feeding, live-plucking and other inhumane farming techniques.
Brands can try and control this process themselves, Mountain Equipment do an amazing job with their Down Codex scheme. To make things easier brands can use official suppliers who are members of groups of down suppliers who are certified to be ethical sources of down under intiatives such as the Responsible Down Standard which is discussed below.
RDS - Responsible Down Standards
The RDS is a certification created by The Textile Exchange. Textile Exchange is a global nonprofit organization that works closely with all sectors of the textile supply chain to find the best ways to minimize and even reverse negative environmental and social outcomes created by this $1.7 trillion industry.
The RDS states: The Responsible Down Standard aims to ensure that down and feathers come from animals that have not been subjected to an unnecessary harm. It is our hope that the standard can be used to reward and influence the down and feather industry to incentivize practices that respect the humane treatment of ducks and geese. We believe that education – through the RDS – is a meaningful way to drive demand for strong animal welfare practices. The standard also provides companies and consumers with a tool to know what is in their products, and to make accurate claims.
Although the RDS is a voluntary process, over 3640 farms have now signed up to gain accreditation which covers over 550 million farmed birds across the globe.
The RDS was developed and revised over three years, with the input of animal welfare groups, industry experts, brands and retailers. The standard recognizes and rewards the best practices in animal welfare. The standards are based around six key points which are shown below.
How brands approach ethical down
We are proud to announce that here at Equip Outdoor Technologies UK Ltd we are implementing the certification of the Responsible Down Standard across our entire Rab down collection. The RDS is a comprehensive global, third party-certified, animal welfare and traceability standard for down and feathers. The RDS ensures that the down in a product does not come from birds that have been live-plucked or force-fed and that their welfare has been protected from the time they were hatchlings to when they are slaughtered. The entire supply chain – farms, collectors, slaughter houses, down processors, sewing factories and distribution centres – are inspected by independent, professional certification bodies annually to guarantee complete traceability and compliance.
Patagonia set the standard for ethical down long ago. They have been working on this issue within their production of down gear since 2007. The company has a strong environmental focus so it is no surprise they scrutinise down production and use carefully. This has developed over time and as of fall 2017 product season, the virgin down is also now certified to the Global Traceable Down Standard (Global TDS), Advanced certification level by NSF International. NSF International is an independent, accredited organization that develops public health standards and certification programs that help protect the world’s food, water, consumer products and environment. Click to read more on Patagonia's approach to Traceable Down.
At Montbell, they source down from both the European and Asian markets to satisfy a variety of characteristics (supply/availability, low cost, consistent quality, humane practices, etc.) and maintain their lofty standards. Every season they seek to balance the superior quality for which they are known and the lowest possible raw materials cost. They change down sourcing companies frequently to insure that customers have access to superior products at the lowest price possible. In the course of these efforts, Montbell never purchases down from operations that practice “live-plucking” methods. They only utilise down plumes and feathers collected as a by-product of water fowl raised to meet the demands of the food industry.
They state that they will continue to look for sources of down that maximise value to their customers and allow Montbell products to perform at the highest level.
Mountain Equipment are one of the leading British brands in regards to ethical down. They started their Down Codex project back in 2009 aiming to ensure that animal welfare and quality were prioritised while allowing the company to manage and reduce the risk of potential issues in their supply chain. The Down Codex allows consumers to type in their unique barcode for each down item in order to trace the specific origin of the down used and see an independent IDFL (International Down & Feather Laboratory) audit of the supply chain. For more details on Ethical Down from Mountain Equipment read here.
Montane use certified non-live plucked and non-force fed down. From the Autumn / Winter 2015 season onwards, Montane is proud to announce that all its down insulated jackets & garments will be produced using Allied’s HyperDRY™ water resistant down. In the name of transparency, Montane will also become the first brand in the world to commit to the RDS across its entire clothing range. Allied’s Trackmydown service will be implemented through hang tags on products. Each tag will not only explain the technology in the product, but will also feature a unique SourceTRACK lot number.
Sea to Summit firmly believes in the humane treatment of animals regardless of circumstance. We do not use any down that has been ‘live plucked’. All down supplied by our vendors are from ducks and geese that are harvested for the meat industry, therefore the down and feathers are collected as a by-product. Sea to Summit routinely ensures our vendors operate in strict adherence to their own animal welfare policies, furthermore our down shipments are batch certified to guarantee that the down is harvested by appropriate means throughout the supply chain.
Mountain Hardwear value ethical, sustainable manufacturing practices and are committed to assuring that all partners share these values. We are committed to ensuring that the natural goose down used as insulation in many of our products is obtained from suppliers that employ humane harvesting methods.
As of 2016 all Berghaus down products were 100% RDS certified. As well as the farms and down processing factories being audited to the RDS standard, Berghaus garment factories, and warehouses, are also audited to ensure all the RDS down bought gets into the down jackets and makes it into customers hands. Only then can the products wear the RDS label guaranteeing that 100% of the down in jacket is RDS certified.
Western Mountaineering have found that the best quality of down can be gathered in a manner that is considerably more humane with little or no direct interaction between the geese and man. The finest quality of down is the plumage which naturally falls from mature geese during a process called “moulting”. We strongly support this approach and feel that it results in higher fill power since the down falls from mature healthy geese naturally, with no harm to the geese, and the perfectly developed, high quality large down clusters are collected while the geese are away from the sheltered nesting area.
Thermarest source their down through DOWNLITE, which is a down and feather processing operation located in Cincinnati, Ohio who supply duck and goose down to manufacturers around the globe. They are bluesign certified and believe in the ethical treatment of waterfowl; all material procured by Thermarest - DOWNLITE is bought via channels where birds are being raised for the purpose of sale in the poultry industry and the feather and down is a bi-product that would otherwise be disposed of as waste upon processing of the birds.
Crux down products use Polish goose down; we use only Polish goose down because we can guarantee the integrity of the means of its collection, and the quality of the fill power. Poland bans both live-plucking and force-feeding practices, the two main areas of ethical concerns. Our supplier is a producer of goose-meat, their major export market being Germany. They have a vertical operation, which means they have complete control over the breeding, raising and killing processes of geese. Down is a very valuable by-product of their business.
As part of our policy for the humane treatment of animals. We do not use down provided by “live pluck” operations. We only use down provided after geese have been harvested for food but this is excluding Foie Gras geese and ducks. Our vendors are required to certify that they are complying with our animal rights policy on an annual basis.
The down Outdoor Research use meets the RDS Down Standard: The TE (Textile Exchange) Responsible Down Standard (RDS) ensures that down or feathers are sourced from responsibly treated geese, ducks, or other waterfowl, and tracks the material through the supply chain. This standard ensures that down does not come from animals that have been subjected to any unnecessary harm and institutes a traceability system to validate the source of the material.
Big Agnes are committed to using sustainable products wherever and whenever possible, including the down used for sleeping bags and outerwear. They strongly believe in only using down that comes from ducks and geese that were treated ethically, so they, as a company, have committed to the 'Responsible Down Standard'. All of the down Big Agnes purchases for their products comes from an RDS Certified supplier.