“Sustainable” Suffers From Ambiguity

quote by co-founder of Fashion Revolution

“Sustainability is the means to maintain change in a balanced environment without compromising future needs. It’s a combination of social, economic, and environmental needs.”

This UN definition means that true sustainability literally covers everything, the social, economic, and environmental needs of humans. Sustainability is not a new concept, and people have always applied sustainable principles to their life and work. It’s not unusual for words to change meaning over time. It seems that “sustainable” has become synonymous with environmental conservation, and in turn this word has also become meaningless. Just ask anyone to define sustainable, and you’ll receive a multitude of varied responses, along with ones like “I’m not really sure”.

This word suffers from ambiguity along with other words like green, eco-friendly, ethical, and responsibly made. All these words lack concrete definitions with foundations in law that customers and brands can observe. It’s common practice for fast fashion companies to engage in greenwashing, or use ambiguity to sell the feeling of responsibility; marketing themselves as more green than they really are. One such example is a selling feature for a faux leather jacket by Zara, describing it as “sustainably produced polyurethane”. There is nothing sustainable about polyurethane. Corporations latched onto the word “sustainable”, feeling that it resonates with people. Supposedly sustainable efforts conveys importance. Sustainable is now nothing more than a “buzzy marketing term”.

Its use remains open to interpretation by brands and consumers. I’m certainly guilty of overusing “sustainable”, in an attempt to generalize. But what we need is a legal definition so that measurable progress can be made for the benefit of the brands, consumers, and the environment. Companies must be specific about their claims, to answer what they are doing to substantiate them.

To address this ambiguity, if we are making sustainable efforts through our businesses and products; be specific as to what those efforts are, and the benefits to your customers and the health of our planet. Quit greenwashing and walk the talk!