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Responsible Down Certification: What Does It Mean?

For down comforters and pillows, what does responsible down certification mean? Learn how your next bedding purchase reflects on the planet.

Responsible Down Certification: What Does It Mean?

Long gone are the days where birds were pillaged and plundered for the sake of fashion and comfort with no regard to conservation or environmental responsibility. The use of goose down for down comforters, feather ticks, eiderdown quilts, and mattresses dates back to 14thcentury Europe and was a luxury that only the wealthy could afford. Typically the feathers were saved from animals to be used for cooking and the resulting comfort items were passed down from generation to generation. By the 19th  century commoners could afford to save up feathers for their own creations, especially if they were fortunate enough to keep a few geese or ducks.

As was the custom and necessary with life in previous centuries where resources were expensive and finite, and mass production was not yet a thing, great care was taken to preserve feather bedding. Great care was important as with many natural products, if not properly prepared, could rot or emanate foul (or fowl?) smells without being adequately dried. Girls saved up feathers for years to create featherbeds for their wedding trousseau, and pilgrims and settlers brought these family heirlooms along with them to the New World.

Down is actually the plumage underneath the feathers, next to the bird’s skin. It’s an insulation layer that protects birds who spend their time in water and in cold and harsh climates. It’s biodegradable and doesn’t require fossil fuel for production. Down is an ideal way to keep warm without the weight and bulk of heavy wool. Down is durable, comfortable, and warm. After years of searching for a comparable synthetic, most consumers agree that nothing compares to the feeling of real down. As the era of disposable goods and material consumption emerged, animals often were subject to harmful treatment for the sake of human comfort. Savage practices exist that expose birds to painful and cruel feather harvesting, making the down and feather industry a target of animal welfare groups. But when sourced properly, down can be a sustainable and ethical material that lasts a lifetime.

Global organizations like Textile Exchange and Control Union promote responsibility in textiles by ensuring humane sourcing of animal products, including cashmere, leather, angora, wool, and down and feathers, protecting the birds who are used to generate material for the $1.5 trillion textile industry. The development of the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) created a leading standard for animal welfare in down and feather products.

According to responsibledownstandard.org, the RDS is “an independent, voluntary global standard, which means that companies can choose to certify their products to the RDS, even if there is no legislation requiring them to do so.” The goal of RDS is to make sustainability a priority for manufacturers and business owners with a vision of protecting the environment and improving the lives of animals through education and information campaigns.

Manufacturers source their materials from local farms and collectors or from industrial supply chains, which are industrial farms that raise ducks and geese for their meat. Most of the world’s down comes from Asia, where goose and duck are dietary staples. The primary users of down are households in North America and Europe.

The RDS identifies and shares best practices with each participant in the supply chain to reduce negative impact on water, air, and soil, and to ensure humane end-of-life outcomes for animals.

The tenets of the Responsible Down Standard include:

  • Removal of feathers from live birds is prohibited
  • Force-feeding is prohibited
  • Holistic respect for bird welfare from hatching to slaughter
  • RDS down and feathers is properly identified
  • Each stage in the supply chain is audited by a third party certification body
  • Only products with 100 percent certified down and feathers carry the RDS logo

To find home goods that are RDS certified, do online research and ask questions. Look for the RDS logo on home bedding products as well as outdoor equipment like sleeping bags and coats. And to reduce the use of down and feather products, care for, reuse, and recycle down-based products that you already own. Over 550 million birds fall under the oversight of certification bodies that aim to ensure responsible down production and use.

Some companies that carry certified products are: Columbia, Daniadown, Eddie Bauer, Feathered Friends, H&M, JCPenney, Levi’s, L.L. Bean, Lululemon, Marmot, Plumeria Bay, REI, Scandia Home, Sorel, and The North Face. There are many other local and international brands that also fall under the RDS standard. It only takes a little bit of effort before you buy to find out whether a down comforter, pillow, or another down product is using ethically sourced goose or duck down.

Resources—Old and InterestingResponsible Down, Textile Exchange