Legitimately "green"/organic mattress options - am I on the right track??

Hi elw428,

You are certainly doing some good research into a difficult and confusing subject where there are often no clear black and white answers to the question of “how safe is safe enough for me”.

You’ve probably read this already but post #2 here has some good information and a number of links to other sources and posts that can be helpful … although as you know the more you read the more you may find that answers can sometimes lead to more questions than anything else.

To answer your questions a little more specifically though …

USDA organic certification: This is a certification for agricultural or livestock products and not for products that are made from them. You can have a USDA organic orange or meat or raw latex or cotton for example (all of which are agricultural products) but if this is used to make another product then the USDA doesn’t certify it. As you can see in post #6 here … there are several companies that produce certified organic raw latex.

The USDA authorizes a large list of certifying agencies to assure compliance and one of these is Orgon Tilth.
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If an agricultural product is USDA certified by one of its certifying agencies then it can claim to be USDA organic certified. If a product only has some organic components then it can list the organic components on the label.

GOTS certified: This stands for Global Organic Textile Standard and is a worldwide standard different from the USDA standard and certifies textiles that are made from organic crops. If a fabric is GOTS certified then it can be labeled as “organic” in the US but not as USDA certified organic (see here). This gives consumers a way to know that a fabric is made from organic fibers even though the fabric itself isn’t an agricultural crop. There is also some good comments about GOTS certification in post #3 here.

They also have approved certifying bodies and Oregon Tilth is one of these as well.
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A textile that is GOTS certified can be sold as “organic” in the US but not as USDA organic or use the NOP seal.

GOLS certified: This is a new organic standard and applies specifically to latex because there wasn’t an organic latex standard for products made with organic raw latex prior to its existance. Before GOLS there was only latex foam “made with organic latex” but there was no certified “organic latex” cores. There are currently two companies that make GOLS certified latex sheets which are Latex Green and CoColatex, two that make GOLS certified toppers which are Richard Pieris Natural Foams (Arpico) and Naturepedic, and there are 6 companies which make organic latex mattresses that have a certified organic factory which are CoCo latex, Latex Green, Organic Mattresses Inc (OMI), Richard Pieris Natural Foams, Naturepedic, and Soaring Heart. All of these are 95% organic materials (5% of the materials used to make latex foam are the soaps, accelerators, foaming agents, curing agents, gelling agents, antioxidants and other substances that are used to make the foam). There are also other latex categories as well but there are not many that are certified. If you register at GOLS (which is free) you can see them all here because the listings of organic latex suppliers will change over time.

A simple way to think of these (GOTS and GOLS) is that they certify the entire production chain that uses USDA certified organic raw materials to to the manufacturing of the final certified product including any additional chemical inputs and fair trade and labor practices and the environmental impact of the manufacturing processes.

Oeko-Tex certification: This is a safety testing standard which tests for harmful substances that can leach out of a mattress and for harmful VOC’s … not organic farming methods.
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This is a safety testing standard which tests for harmful substances that can leach out of a mattress and for harmful VOC’s … not organic farming methods. All the latex you are likely to encounter is either Oeko-Tex certified or Eco-Institut certified. This is similar to CertiPur which is used for polyfoam and memory foam but has a more stringent testing protocol. you can see the testing protocols here.
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Eco-Institut certification: This is also a safety testing certification that tests for harmful substances and VOC’s. You can see their testing criteria here. They also test for durability, and for natural latex content (by declaration).

Greenguard Gold This is another safety testing standard that tests to ensure low levels for harmful VOC’s. They test a complete mattress rather than just individual components. Their testing criteria is here.

Cradle to Cradle is a newer certification that tests for harmful VOC’s and also for the environmental and social impacts of the production process so it’s a “safety” certification but also has some criteria that are similar to an organic certification as well.
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There is more information about C2C in post #13 here and the rest of the topic.

CertiPUR-US is another testing standard that tests for harmful substances and VOC’s but is used for polyurethane and memory foam materials (see post #12 here). It is sponsored by a group of foam manufacturers that make polyurethane foam rather than than being independent like the other three but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Their testing criteria are here.

In general terms … Oeko-Tex and Eco-institut and Greenguard Gold and CertiPUR are testing standards for safety and GOLS, GOTS, and USDA organic are certifications for organic farming methods and/or sustainable production methods and of course avoiding the use of harmful chemicals in agricultural practices while C2C has some of the criteria of both.

If your concerns are more about safety then I think that testing standards such as Oeko-Tex and Eco-Institut are the most important elements but this is not so much about brands as it is about the materials that are used in many brands. All the latex you are likely to encounter (synthetic or natural or blended) has been tested for harmful substances and VOC’s and certified as “safe” by one of these so safety needn’t be a concern for most people regarding latex of any kind. The issues surrounding “green, organic, natural, sustainable, or ecofriendly” and many other vague terms that are related are a much more complex subject that is different from “safe” and really involves research into the specific issues that are important to each person on an individual level and into each material that is in a mattress. For most people … checking “safety” certifications or organic certifications would probably be enough and would be the limit of the research they were willing to do because more than this can involve some very complex research and still produce no easy or clear answers to the most important question of “how safe is safe enough for me?” and each person may have a different answer to this that they are comfortable with.

There are many brands of mattresses that use safe materials or latex and organic or natural fibers besides the ones you are looking at. Post #21 here has a list of online manufacturers that are members of this site and many of them carry many types and designs of latex mattresses … all of which are “safe”. Many of them carry latex mattresses that use organic certified latex or organic fabrics and fibers as well. I would also be aware that in terms of feel and performance that there is little to no difference between organic Dunlop and the same material that isn’t certified as organic but uses 100% natural latex (see post #6 here).

There is also more information about the differences between “safety” certifications and “organic” certifications in post #2 here.

On a local level some of the better options I’m award of in the Denver area are listed in post #2 here. Rather than searching by brand I would research by materials and make your questions materials based such as asking “can you tell me the specifics of all the layers in your mattress?” so you can identify any materials that you would be concerned with or find questionable that don’t have a certification. Some quick website research and some phone calls will identify which retailers or manufacturers carry mattresses that match your criteria in terms of the materials they use in their mattresses.