Welcome to the Public Figure Sustainability Dictionary. We’re taking it back to basics on commonly used terms you may find in your exploration of our world of honest luxury and conscious fashion.
Firstly, what does being ‘sustainable’ mean?
Sustainability is a broad term used to identify an approach that is considerate of the ecological impacts of an action. The origin of the word carries the sentiment of ‘being upheld’ meaning throughout the production of a ‘sustainable’ product, efforts have been made to minimize the impact on the environment and preserve the earth’s resources.
In regards to the fashion and retail industry this term has evolved and no doubt you are seeing it more and more often. The most confusing thing is that you’ll see all different versions of being ‘sustainable’. This is due to the multitude of considerations involved in the making of a product and the fact that there may be pros and cons to different approaches. For example one method may reduce demand for raw materials by recycling, however the process of recycling fibres could produce high carbon emissions.
The best way to navigate the world of ‘sustainable fashion’ is to educate yourself around the key terms you’ll find in this space, so that you can make informed decisions about your purchases.
Here are a few terms you might see throughout the Public Figure online boutique and what they refer to:
Renewable materials are considered to be more sustainable as they can be produced economically without placing a high demand on other resources. Examples of this include natural materials that regenerate abundantly such as wool, bamboo and hemp, or synthetically produced materials produced using recycled resources.
The aim of being carbon neutral is to balance the amount of carbon dioxide generated by production. This involves implementing processes that reduce carbon emissions in the first place, and also investing in initiatives that counteract or ‘cancel out’ those that are unavoidably produced such as partnering with tree planting and landscape regeneration initiatives.
A biodegradable material has the ability to decompose naturally after use. This refers to fibres that return to the earth without leaving behind toxins or disrupting its natural state, and do so in a short period of time.
This term can often be confused with compostable – it is true that all compostable products degrade, but only when placed in an at-home or commercial compost setting. However this method carries the advantage of breaking down at a much faster rate, most often in under 90 days.
Another consideration to be mindful of is naturally occurring biodegradable materials versus man-made (aka bio-plastics). As this definition isn’t formally regulated there are no set parameters around the timeframe for the material to break down. Also some so-called biodegradable plastics degrade into microplastics which remain in the environment, releasing carbon gasses as they do so.
Organic materials are those that have been grown using no chemical pesticides and only natural fertilizers. Materials such as cotton often use a significant amount of chemicals to preserve crops which are not only harmful for surrounding ecosystems but also the farmers growing them. Certified organic materials are monitored by regulating bodies such at GOTS - the Global Organic Textile Standard.
Ethically made is another broad term like ‘sustainable’ label that can encompass many different aspects of a business’s operating procedures. Baseline considerations include that workers are paid fair wages at minimum in line with the local government’s definition of a ‘living’ wage, safe working conditions that meet local regulations for Occupational Health and Safety requirements and no child or forced labour.
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Words by Jessica Eva for Public Figure