What ‘Sustainable’ Means

We’ve all heard the term ‘sustainable’ a million times at this point but it’s become to commonplace and so diluted that it’s unclear what companies mean when they use the term to talk about their practises. So let’s get back to basics and talk about what ‘sustainability’ really means.

Let’s say you’re hosting a party. You invite a couple of friends over and the first to arrive is Adam. Being a gracious host, you tell Adam to help himself over to the snack table. So he does. After a couple of minutes, Adam tells you there are no crisps left. You’re panicking and thinking that you have another bag in the pantry. Sadly, you don’t.

But that’s easy to solve, right? You can just have one of your friends bring some if they can. You also think that Adam is kind of an arse for finishing all the crisps and not thinking about anyone else. 

Now let’s take that on a global scale. Adam represents humanity. The crisps are our finite resources. Your other guests are the Earth’s future generations to come. It’s a similar situation to the one above, except this time we can’t exactly ask anyone to get us more crisps if we happen to run out. That’s why it’s important that we learn about sustainability and how we should practice it so we can avoid being the “Adams” in the grand scheme of things.

What does sustainable mean? 

According to the Brundtland Report, Sustainability or Sustainable Development means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. How do we live today so that others may also thrive in the future? 

Unsustainable practices cause mass overconsumption of resources. This means we are using resources at a faster rate than we are replenishing them. Over the past decades of big companies doing unsustainable practices, we’ve had problems like deforestation, climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and many more. 

Sustainability also means understanding the relationship between the environment, economics, and equity. It isn’t sustainable to achieve one at the expense of the other two. You can’t really call it sustainable when you are able to make a profit out of your business, and care for the environment, but have unethical practices that put your workers’ health and safety at risk. All three should be achieved to make sustainability a norm rather than just a trend. 

What does this mean for high street fashion?

An example of unethical and unsustainable practice in the fashion industry was the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 which ended up killing 1,134 workers and injuring many others. It was a wake-up call for the fashion industry and it triggered conversations around the world about how our purchases could impact people’s lives and livelihoods in developing nations. 

Benneton, Primark, Mango, and many others which you can find on the high street were some of the brands with garments manufactured at Rana Plaza. After the incident, a number of initiatives were founded to prevent unethical working conditions in the garment industry. 

Though there are high street fashion brands that are moving towards more sustainable and ethical practices such as H&M and ASOS, there are also others who are still riding the fast fashion train. Years after the Rana Plaza Collapse, there have been many movements all over the world to promote sustainability but many companies are still a long way from practicing what is truly sustainable. 

What is greenwashing?

We’ve all heard of whitewashing, but what is greenwashing? When a corporate entity or organization puts more time, money, and effort into marketing that they’re sustainable than actually minimizing their environmental impact — that’s greenwashing. An example of this would be companies that market themselves as eco-friendly but still use excessive packaging for their products. Greenwashing is basically virtue signaling and it could be quite dangerous especially when a company’s motives behind being “eco-friendly” are warped. 

It’s a misleading tactic that consumers often fall victim to. So as a consumer, how do you spot a brand that’s greenwashing? Here are some ways you can avoid brands that are doing it. 

  • Look for actual evidence of them being sustainable or eco-friendly. Don’t just rely on what the company says. Do your research. Look for stamps or certifications such as Fair Trade or Cradle to the Grave. 
  • Make sure that when they say it’s verified by a third party, that it really is. A lot of these products would claim they are, but you really have to check the website or organization they are verified under. 
  • Invest in products that might be a little bit pricier than others. If a product claims they’re top quality but come at a very cheap price, chances are they’re undercutting somewhere in the production line. The sustainable approach might be a little bit expensive, but taking care of the environment and providing ethical conditions for workers makes paying that extra pound worth it. 

How else can we be sustainable? 

We have little control over the companies that are unethical or unsustainable. But the changes we can do by ourselves do make an impact. Buying from sustainable brands means that your money supports those who actually care about the environment and their employees. 

Find new sustainable brands you can support. If a company does greenwash and you find out about it, then it’s best to find another brand that actually knows and practices what sustainable means. You can tell friends which brands greenwash, so they can avoid supporting that certain brand too.

Another way to be sustainable is by buying secondhand items. By buying secondhand you already reduce the need for new clothes to be made from new materials. You can reduce carbon emissions and prevent further water and air pollution. You can also extend the life of a product instead of having it end up in landfills or incinerators. By shopping secondhand, you’re already practicing the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. 

There are so many ways you can shop sustainably. But if you’d like to take a shot at an easy way to shop secondhand online, lomasearch.com is the perfect site for you to start your sustainable shopping journey. You can find great secondhand items at the best prices on Loma! 

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