Lo standard ZDHC per una chimica della moda più pulita

What’s the ZDHC and how it helps your company thrive

In many countries, the production of clothing and footwear still includes the use of hazardous chemicals. In 2011, Greenpeace launched the Detox campaign, challenging the global fashion industry to counter the use of the 11 most harmful chemical groups. Fashion is one of the most developed sectors – employing over 300 million people along the value chain – and the use of chemicals in its supply chain has a significant impact on the environment. Not surprisingly, there is, therefore, considerable pressure on the entire sector to become more sustainable. Legal requirements are becoming more stringent, and consumer demand for transparency and traceability along the supply chain has increased. The environmental management of suppliers and the chemical processes used in production are closely related to human, environmental, and worker health. Thus they are areas of particular importance that companies can improve to increase their sustainability and remain competitive.

The value chain must then align with recognised standards and certifications. One of these is the ZDHC program.

roadmap to sustainability zdhc standard river

What’s the ZDHC?

The ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) is a program started on November 21, 2011. It is a coordinated industry response to the campaign launched by Greenpeace. Started by six clothing brands, it became a foundation in 2015. Today, it represents a global multi-stakeholder initiative to which over 160 collaborators in the fashion and footwear sector have joined, including manufacturers, chemical companies, and brands such as Adidas, C&A, Esprit, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., Asos, Burberry, LVMH, Nike and many more.

The goal of reducing the chemical footprint of the clothing and footwear sector, gradually eliminating hazardous chemicals, and guiding towards the implementation and dissemination of sustainable textile chemistry, is carried out with various programs and tools:

  • Roadway Map to Zero
    It is the holistic program that forms the foundation of the ZDHC program, creating the guidelines for the industry.
  • ZDHC Academy / Implementation Hub
    Established in 2016, it is a platform aimed at spreading awareness, knowledge and skills on sustainable chemical management in the supply chain.
  • ZDHC Gateway
    It is the first global database for safer chemistry and a global platform for better chemical management. It allows companies to share wastewater data, monitoring the production performance of different suppliers according to consistent standards.


The MRSL (Manufacturers Restricted Substances List) published by ZDHC is a list of substances banned for use during production processes. MRSL compliance levels range from 0 to 3. A higher level reflects greater confidence that the chemical meets the requirements, therefore a lower likelihood that it contains hazardous substances. ZDHL goes beyond the traditional approaches to chemical restrictions, which apply only to finished products (Product Restricted Substances List – PRSL) and helps to protect consumers while minimising the possible impact of banned hazardous chemicals on production workers, local communities, and the environment.

The difference between ZDHC and REACH

The REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) is a European Union regulation in force since June 1, 2007, adopted to protect human health and the environment from the risks that may arise from chemicals. It applies to all substances, including those found in clothing. Unlike the ZDHC, it is a mandatory regulation, and its compliance by companies is reviewed and evaluated by the ECHA. On the contrary, the ZDHC is a program that companies adhere to voluntarily. More restrictive than REACH, the ZDHC is therefore increasingly adopted internationally: a competitive lever to differentiate itself on the market, it will be increasingly requested by both buyers and brands, determining an adaptation along the entire supply chain.

The other ZDHC-compliant standards

To avoid creating new certification standards, ZDHC has decided to make it possible for those already on the market to earn acceptance as compliant with their MRSL. Some of them today are OEKO-TEX®GOTSIntertek, and numerous others. For companies that already adopt these standards, this means that they are already compliant with the ZDHC.

Lo standard ZDHC per una moda e un pianeta più puliti

How ZDHC can help your business

For brands and the stakeholders in the supply chain, joining the ZDHC represents a strategic move in a market that is already changing to be increasingly sustainable. In particular, many buyers currently ask brands to comply with the ZDHC, which has become an essential choice criterion that indirectly falls on suppliers and the rest of the supply chain. It is not easy to change the entire sector: given the complexity of the textile and leather goods supply chains, tackling the problem requires cooperation between many actors. However, at the same time, it is essential to note that many companies see business opportunities associated with moving to more sustainable businesses. A 2018 survey conducted by ZDHC of 32 large companies shows how the benefits of implementing the program outweighed the costs. Furthermore, it emerged that it is unnecessary to invest too many human resources to achieve the objectives. Most of the companies interviewed said they needed only 0-2 FTEs (full-time equivalent, or the equivalent of the work that a full-time person does in a day).

Another noteworthy point is that most respondents did not have to create new systems or programs from scratch but instead adapted existing ones to include RSL.

The adherence to the ZDHC program worldwide is rising, with a high concentration in Asia and countries such as Turkey, Morocco, and Spain. In Italy, however, the performance is still not optimal.

Nonetheless, in 2019 several workshops held by ZDHC were carried out along with seminars and round tables in Como, Biella, Prato, and Varese for the textile sector and Milan, Tuscany, Veneto, and Naples for the leather sector.

Change is happening.

Where to start to integrate ZDHC?

We know how complex it is to stay competitive and implement these innovations in your business strategy. The supply chain is fragmented, made up of many different phases and processes, with numerous actors creating a fashion item.

For this reason, Cikis analyses the sustainability of the entire supply chain, verifying the documentation and their compliance with international industry standards – including the ZDHC.

The analysis can bring out both positive and unsuspected data: this is the case of the Assessment carried out for a client that showed that he already had an excellent sustainability level concerning chemical processes. All the suppliers analyzed were already compliant with the ZDHC. That meant that the discovery was immediately integrated and enhanced in the communication strategy.

In addition to a complete analysis, the basis for the strategy design, Cikis is responsible for helping brands implement their supply chain, offering direct support in the selection of suppliers. That is the case of a company with which Cikis is working to ensure its compliance with Zalando’s Sustainable Sourcing Policy. A challenging road, but finally viable.

Do you want to find out how to track the chemical standards of your products?