WHAT MAKES A BRAND SUSTAINABLE?
In today’s world, the word sustainability immediately evokes images of earth and our environment and the need to protect it. But’s let back up for a minute and think about how this particular word became so popular. Being sustainable means having the energy and resources we need to keep something going. That’s what sustainability in regard to the planet is all about.
Are we using the Earth’s natural resources in a way that means it (and we) will be around for the long haul? Or are we depleting and destroying our natural resources without considering how this might play out in the future? We need to sustain the planet so that the planet can sustain us. Every aspect of life depends on our ability to sustain natural resources, like clean air, clean water, fertile soil.
Sustainable fashion brands recognize that every part of their business has an impact on the environment and a big part of their overall mission and ethos is to reduce their environmental footprint. This means examining the entire lifecycle of a product, from design, sourcing and raw material production, manufacturing, transport and logistics, warehouse and storage, packaging and shipping, marketing and final sale, use, reuse and recycling. There are a lot of ways for brands to be sustainable. While there are no set criteria for defining sustainability in fashion, and different brands have different targets and methods, the shared goal is to implement processes and practices that prioritize environmental responsibility and never put profit over the future of the planet.
Some of the strategies sustainable brands use are:
- Water use reduction
- Using renewable energy for production
- Carbon offsetting
- Using organic and natural fibers
- Sourcing from sustainable producers
- Reducing fabric waste
- Deploying technologies to reduce excess stock
- Using fewer or no harmful chemicals
- Using low impact dyes
- Using vegan materials
- Using post-consumer and recycled materials, especially for synthetic production
- Using sustainably produced and recyclable packing
- Offering recycling programs for customers
- Sourcing and selling locally
As consumers, there are also various ways we can consume more sustainably. We can:
- buy from companies that are sustainable and not from fast fashion brands
- have our garments made rather than buy off the rack
- buy fewer items
- buy pieces that last longer and that we will want to wear over time
- buy natural fibers
- swap and trade
- buy preloved or second-hand
- rent instead of buy
- repair instead of throw away
Fast Fashion vs. Slow Fashion
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines fast fashion as: an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. It is a modern day phenomenon. Fast fashion is what has happened in the last 20 to 30 years as advancements in production technology and online selling capability has moved catwalk fashion to the masses at cheaper prices, higher turnover, lower quality and higher demand. As a result, the average American buys 400% more clothes than they did two decades ago. Fast fashion is having a massive impact on the environment as it contributes more and more to carbon emissions and climate change, air and water pollution and landfills. Alternatively, a slow fashion brand does not have as many seasons or product offerings, and most are committed to using higher quality materials and productions processes. Ethical and Sustainable slow fashion brands also consider how their sourcing and production impacts people and the planet.
A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.
Cradle to Cradle
Cradle to Cradle is a design concept that was developed in the 1990s by Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart, William McDonough and the scientists of EPEA Internationale Umweltforschung in Hamburg. It stands for innovation, quality as well as good design and describes the safe and potentially infinite use of materials in cycles.
The Cradle to Cradle design concept:
Cradle to Cradle is a design concept inspired by nature, in which products are created according to the principles of an ideal circular economy. This differentiates Cradle to Cradle from conventional recycling and the concept of eco-efficiency. It is about eco-effectiveness and goes beyond conventional sustainability tools and approaches, which primarily show the negative influence of humans on the environment. Cradle to Cradle follows the Triple Top Line as its basic approach, and its implementation creates equal economic, social and ecological benefits.
The advantages of Cradle to Cradle:
Cradle to Cradle offers companies the opportunity to present their products as no longer just for sale, but as available for use. After the use of the product, the materials are taken back as part of a reprocessing system and therefore remain in circulation. Companies may become less dependent on price fluctuations in raw materials markets. The economy of the whole value creation cycle is improved: the value chain is viewed from raw materials to the remanufacture of the product.
Two nutrient cycles:
The Cradle to Cradle design concept distinguishes between the biological and the technological cycles for materials. Waste materials in an old product become the “food” for a new product. In the biological cycle materials are returned to the biosphere in the form of compost or other nutrients, from which new materials can be created. In the technical cycle materials that are not used up during use in the product can be reprocessed to allow them to be used in a new product.
ORGANIZATIONS, CERTIFICATIONS AND SYMBOLS
Textile Exchange Standards
Textile Exchange owns and administrates the Global Recycle Standard (GRS), Content Claim Standard (CCS), the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS), the Organic Content Standard (OCS), the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), and the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS). These standards are designed to ensure chain of custody for preferred materials, and to provide labeling tools for final product claims. Textile Exchange’s mission is to accelerate sustainable practices in the textile industry. This acceleration only happens when steps have been taken to ensure that actions taken toward sustainability result in real and meaningful change. This requires a strong understanding of the issues and a plan to substantiate the claims being made. Certification to a third-party standard accomplishes this.
Global Recycled Standard (GRS)
The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. The goal of the GRS is to increase use of Recycled materials in products and reduce/eliminate the harm caused by its production. The Global Recycled Standard is intended for use with any product that contains at least 20% Recycled Material. Each stage of production is required to be certified, beginning at the recycling stage and ending at the last seller in the final business-to-business transaction. Material Collection and Material Concentration sites are subject to self-declaration, document collection, and on-site visits.
Organic Content Standard (OCS)
The goal of the Organic Content Standard (OCS) is to ensure trust in organic content claims. The OCS accomplishes this goal by verifying the presence and amount of Organic Material in a final product. It provides a strong chain of custody system from the source of the organic raw material to the final product through certification. It allows for transparent, consistent, and comprehensive independent evaluation and verification of Organic Material content claims on products by an accredited third-party Certification Body (CB). As a business to business tool, the OCS may be used to ensure that products companies purchase actually contain Organic Material. The Standard does not cover the certification of the raw material itself, which is verified independently of the production process certification. It also does not address processing inputs (e.g. chemicals), environmental aspects of processing (e.g. energy or water usage), social issues, safety issues, or legal compliance.
Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS)
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is an internationally recognised organic textile standard. Since its introduction in 2006, GOTS has demonstrated its practical feasibility and is supported by the growth in consumption of organic fibres and the demand for a unified processing criteria from the industry and retail sectors. GOTS ensures the organic status of textiles from the harvesting of the raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing all the way to labelling, in order to provide credible assurances to the consumer. The standard covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70 percent certified organic natural fibres. The final fibre products may include, but are not limited to, yarns, fabrics, clothes and home textiles. However, this standard does not set criteria for leather products.
Certified B Corporation
Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.
Cradle to Cradle Certified
The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard guides designers and manufacturers through a continual improvement process that looks at a product through five quality categories — material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. A product receives an achievement level in each category — Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum — with the lowest achievement level representing the product’s overall mark. Product assessments are performed by a qualified independent organization trained by the Institute. Assessment Summary Reports are reviewed by the Institute, which certifies products meeting the Standard requirements, and licenses the use of the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ word and design marks to the product manufacturer. Every two years, manufacturers must demonstrate good faith efforts to improve their products in order to have their products recertified.
How relevant is it to check finished products? Do they indicate, if problematic substances were used in an early stage-in process or if certain processes and production facilities are environmentally inefficient? On the basis of these considerations the bluesign® system has been established in 2000: bluesign® considers the production processes as a whole. Therefore, the applied components and processes are thoroughly audited. The aim of our so-called Input Stream Management is for unsustainable substances not to enter the production cycle at all, but to be eliminated first. The crucial point is not the number of manufacturers involved or the number of processing steps. A clean process with sustainable ingredients is decisive at the end of which a marketable product enthuses the customers. Input Stream Management helps the textile business to produce in an environmentally friendly and resource-efficient way combining both the economical and ecological advantages to the benefit of everyone involved.