There is no exception when it comes to greenwashing in the mattress and bedding industry. For most brands, it's easier to use deceptive wording in their marketing campaigns and packaging in an attempt to convince safety and health-conscious buyers that they are buying a truly safe, healthy, and honest product. It’s disenchanting to say the least and depending on how deep you dig, the truth can get pretty ugly.
How To Find A Healthy Mattress
We've teamed up with our friends at Ivy Organics, a mattress company that handcrafts luxury-organic mattresses and bedding in Southern California using ONLY certified-organic materials. We’re going to clarify some things to help sort through the mess that is the internet, the shopping process, and what really matters in organic bedding to help you make a better, more informed decision for your rest, and more importantly for your health. We sat down with Ivy Fradin, owner, and CEO of Ivy Organics, founded in 2010. She’s been in the industry for over 36 years and has a wealth of knowledge about what to look for when shopping for an organic mattress. Like, what goes into sourcing honest ingredients, the certifications for them, and ensuring quality and integrity through heritage craftsmanship.
- What are the most important precautions to take and what should buyers look for when shopping for an organic mattress?
There is an overwhelming amount of information online today about mattresses and bedding. Especially in the organic market. So many brands all claim a proprietary design or material that will change your life and give you the BEST sleep ever. It can get more intense when consulting with a salesperson or retailer that may not be well-versed in organic bedding and starts spouting off conflicting or false information, and with confidence! Anything is believable with the right amount of enthusiasm. Be wary of high-pressure sales tactics that seem to be more persuasive than informative. Most of them are commission-based and couldn’t care less about selling the right product for you. Just the one that will make them the most money.
What should also raise some red flags is most brands maintain that their products are safe but do not disclose material information or risks at all. Be cautious when your questions cease to be answered or your focus is redirected. Pay close attention to law labels on mattresses and the materials contained within. If you are in the market for an organic mattress, the materials should be reflected on the law label. Period.
Our general rule is if you can't pronounce it or you aren't sure, don't buy it until you know for certain what it is. You can also Google information these days about a specific material or chemical and know very quickly what it is, its uses, and effects.
Certifications are a good indicator you are looking in the right direction, but there are several. We spend a great deal of time educating clients about third-party certifications, which are approved and distributed by independently operated entities after the facilities and raw materials have been inspected. These materials meet strict guidelines for purity, organic standards, safety, and health and only a handful of brands, including Ivy Organics, use such materials in their products.
"We spend a great deal of time educating clients..."
- With so many terms like "eco and green, or natural", it can all be confusing. How should one navigate their ORGANIC mattress shopping experience?
Focus on products that are specifically “certified organic.” I cannot stress enough how important it is to know and understand the difference between something that simply says "organic" and something that is "certified-organic", let alone "green", "eco-friendly", or "natural". Even in food, a product can be labeled as organic or natural and blended with a certain amount of inorganic properties. Organic mattresses and bedding are created with that same approach. It may have organic cotton quilting or ticking, but the materials inside are likely a blend of polyurethane foams, gels, or blended latex. All of which off-gas or break down and become airborne over the product life.
Not all organic mattresses are made the same either. Most are still nothing more than expensive slabs of latex glued together and wrapped in a really fancy slip-cover. Sometimes these slip-covers are even designed to look like a Euro-top or pillow-top mattress. Often times it’s nothing more than an aesthetic feature that costs extra, is not even integrated or built into the product to serve a specific purpose, and is sold as this life changing aspect to the product. You can just pull on the paneling or outside material and tell right away. If it pulls away from all corners, it is made cheaply.
- So, a lot of products are being sold as "organic" and high-quality; even “handcrafted”, but these may only be half-truths?
Yes, because materials like organic cotton are present, but only in the surface material or the slip-cover that goes over the internal materials. The overall product is far from organic or green, and quality wouldn’t personally be my descriptive vocabulary. Buyers are often convinced by retailers or ad verbiage and may not even be aware a product is made with organic AND synthetic materials. Companies do this to cut cost and greatly improve margins, only to charge a premium for a relatively cheap product sold as something it just isn’t. It’s a pig in lipstick. A good start is to just look for something that is handmade by real people and not simply labeled so because a quality inspector put his or her hands on the product at the end of the assembly line.
40% of the bed in-a-box brands and foam-based mattresses are manufactured by one company. There are currently more than 150 bed in-a-box brands and more popping up. These products are offered at a price point that is a justifiable spend for most anyone. They also come with warranties that are unrealistic and often prorated with fine print carefully structured to favor the manufacturer in almost all circumstances. 25-year warranties, “forever” warranties, and our favorite, “free returns.”… No one should have a mattress longer than 8-10 years and “free returns” typically mean costly restocking fees.
“40% of beds in-a-box and foam-based mattresses are manufactured by one company…”
- Foam cushioning is used in everything from car seats to insoles, even crib mattresses. What is so bad about it?
Look, foam and petroleum certainly serve a purpose in consumer products. But we should try our best to limit our exposure and control what WE can individually. When it comes to using a product for a third of our lives where our largest organ, our skin, is vulnerable and that product has high levels of Formaldehyde, Benzene, and Naphthalene for starters, it’s important to limit or eliminate the risk altogether. Furthermore, foam does not breathe well and traps heat and moisture. Some foams claim to alleviate some of those issues with “cooling” technology but the problem is never really solved. Wool and cotton wick away moisture, and safely without the need for chemicals. In fact, there has been legal action taken against companies that advertised polyurethane or memory foams as being low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) or “safe” that carried serious consequences.
The terms you mentioned in the question are common greenwashing terms, and despite CertiPUR US foam being dubbed a cleaner, greener alternative, they still cannot claim the following:
- Environmentally friendly or safe
- No carcinogens
- No flame retardants/Free of FR's, etc.
Other foams used in mattresses with names that sound like they are rooted in science are base foam, memory foam, visco-elastic foam, and gel memory foam to name a few. All of these are petroleum-based and they off-gas for the entire life of the product. You don’t have to take it from me. Several reputable sources such as the EPA, NASA, and NIH verify this information.
The CertiPUR US certification was created for the foam industry, by the foam industry and is the standard for what’s allowed in foam products. It comes across as being a “healthy” alternative but it allows for Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Mercury, and many more to be present. Another common “green stamp” certification is the Oeko Tex which is comparable to CertiPUR.
- So, what should you look for in and how would you dodge greenwashed products?
For starters, ask a lot of questions. Take notes and do your own research until you feel confident in your understanding. Secondly, a mattress crafted with truly organic materials like latex and/or cotton or wool must have the GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) AND the GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard) labels. Some brands are verified by those organizations and some aren't, but their supplier or production facility might be. If one brand isn't verified and they are using the certification badges, the manufacturer is likely certified. If you find yourself at this point, then ask to see the material certifications. However, this may be tricky and you might get some push-back. But once you see them, you can move forward in the decision-making process.
Ivy Organics is transparent because we have nothing to hide and have done the work in building our supply chain to ensure the purest raw materials are used. We own our own factory in Los Angeles and understand the importance of quality control and the integrity of our product. We have heard stories from clients that get nowhere with their inquiries with other brands or manufacturers.
There is a caveat. Seeing the paperwork sometimes may not be enough since some suppliers who wholesale GOTS certified organic cotton & wool also sell "eco-wool" - blended wool - which is typically greenwashed and sold as being "organic". The reason for this is GOTS states that "only textile products that contain a minimum of 70% organic fibers can become GOTS certified." So, there is still plenty of room for a synthetic or blended material. Even with so many other certifications, GOTS is "recognized as the world's leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers. It defines high-level environmental criteria along the entire organic textiles supply chain and requires compliance with social criteria as well." So, if you are good with that understanding then check that off the qualifying criteria.
There are also a number of organic mattresses considered to be a hybrid, but not because they are using blended materials. They might use recycled steel nested coils that obviously aren't organic. That will likely be the only element to the product that isn't organic. A coil unit in a certified organic mattress is simply complemented by GOLS and GOTS certified organic materials for more targeted support and comfort. Some people prefer the response of latex and some prefer the more traditional coil for a sort of bounce or springiness.
To sum all of this up, it is basically not as simple as clicking through one or two sites - that the bed of your dreams will just arrive at your door and that will be the end of it. The mattress and bedding industry is highly complex with a lot of information. A mattress is one of the most important purchases we make in regards to our rest and health. Both of those things affect all aspects of our life either negatively or positively depending on this one decision. Get a mattress that has been constructed by highly skilled craftsmen and women, make sure the materials aren’t toxic by looking into the certifications and doing your due diligence, and understand the real long-term benefits that come with investing in a quality mattress as opposed to settling for a novelty item like a roll-and-pack mattress in a box. As for the bigger picture? It’s better for the home and the earth altogether!