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The regions Who's most and least ecologically aware

08 May 2008

While there's now massive and growing awareness of the ecological impact of plastic carrier bags from stores, there is little awareness in the UK of a worldwide ecological standard relating to their clothing and textile contents. Shoppers in Wales and the South West of England are most likely to recognise a textile and clothing label that indicates a shirt, socks or sheets - amongst other goods - have passed a worldwide ecological standard in their manufacture, while Scottish shoppers will be least likely to recognise it. It may be the ecological standard for thousands of textile manufacturers in scores of countries, but, overall, 94% of British consumers have never heard of it, according to Shirley Technologies Limited (STL), the world's foremost textile testing laboratory. "Oeko-Tex" is a worldwide chemical safety standard adopted by 6,500 manufacturers and 80 countries which evaluates and screens for harmful substances in textiles intended to come into contact with consumers. If goods pass strict ecological tests, then they are allowed to carry the label. But only 6% of British consumers have ever heard of it, so don't know to ask for it or look for it - while 46% of the population of Germany, for instance, is completely familiar with it. Scotland was least aware of Oeko-Tex labelling (4%), followed by the North of England and Midlands (both 5%), then the South East (6%), with Wales and the South West of England most aware (both 7%). Women (7%) are almost twice as likely to recognise the labelling as men (4%). Retailers or manufacturers are not obliged to display such labelling, but this comes as a surprise when so many are using green and ecological claims to sell their goods, says STL. Ironically, 42% of the same consumers surveyed by ICM on behalf of Shirley Technologies said they would be willing to pay more for clothing and textiles if they could see evidence that they were free from harmful chemicals affecting both the consumer and employees making them. "This demonstrates a number of key issues: the need for even greater consumer pull-through and demand for ecologically certificated products, and the requirement for retailers to demand this standard from suppliers, and to adopt labelling accordingly," said Phil Whitaker of Shirley Technologies. "Ironically, while many manufacturers are claiming green credentials to try to drive sales - and nearly half of consumers are saying they will pay more for ecologically certificated products - Oeko-Tex is the only scientific certification and proof of their commitment, but retailers are yet to fully adopt it. "Millions of products around the world have been issued with Oeko-Tex certificates - and as a consequence are permitted to be labelled accordingly "But it is a rarely if ever seen label in the UK - so rare that we commissioned a survey to see just how many people did recognise the label, or knew what it stood for. As it is, if consumers knew about the certification then they would have absolute knowledge that a product was ecologically sound. "94% of people said they were not aware of the certification label or what it meant. In Germany, for instance, 46% of people asked said they were aware of the label and what it meant. "That makes the UK 13% as aware of ecological issues as Germany's population." Shirley Technologies, established in Manchester in 1920, is the UK's Oeko-Tex testing laboratory, testing and issuing licences to this standard. "We test for some very nasty chemicals used in the production of clothing and household articles, including formaldehyde - which is carcinogenic - extractable heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium, and pesticides and so on. "We look at and for pH levels, allergenic dyes and toxic substances. A major concern is the pH (acid/alkaline) test, with many samples failing. Materials which fail this test can cause itching, rashes, spots, skin peeling or allergic reaction. " The survey was conducted by ICM on behalf of Shirley Technologies Limited. There were 2,090 respondents, 1003 male and 1087 female. Shirley Technologies Ltd (STL) is a UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) accredited laboratory providing competitive, independent, expert textile testing, certification, advisory and investigation services across the traditional and specialist textile industries. STL is an independent subsidiary of BTTG Ltd, formerly the British Textile Technology Group. With more than 80 years experience, Shirley Technologies Ltd provides unrivalled and expert reassurance through its technical services to a global network of clients which include manufacturers, retailers, the legal profession, police, consumers and related interest groups including Trading Standards. Highly qualified and experienced technical staff work directly with clients to ensure that they receive the best advice and service in a wide range of technical areas.

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