We may feel better about buying clothes and goods labelled "sustainable." But not only is the actual definition of the word unclear, the truth is, none of us can buy our way out of climate changeby Emma Flynn / February 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
From coffee cups to menstrual pads, the buzzword du jour is “sustainable.” But what does that mean when used to describe consumer goods?
I first noticed the proliferation of sustainable products in Instagram advertisements; everything from runners and sandals, to lingerie and socks, cotton swabs and toothbrushes, water bottles, coffee cups, bags, jewellery, and lunchboxes. It’s as common in real life, the word often emblazoned across food and drink packaging. Seemingly everything I could ever need has a ‘sustainable’ counterpart available for purchase. In Ireland, companies whose services are as indispensable to the public as the national train service tout their use of recyclable coffee cups. Well, they’re technically recyclable—however, not at the current time because the facilities don’t exist.
Is there any level at which eco-washing isn’t happening? Asos, one of the world’s largest fast-fashion outlets, now has the option to sort through its products based on sustainability, promising either “recycled goods” or “sustainable fibres and fabrics.” But what each individual product offers, and their specific impact, is difficult to discern.
This is complicated by the word ‘sustainability’ not having one definition. In terms of product descriptions, it’s still relatively new and therefore very malleable. This malleability translates to a lack of consistency: fast fashion outlets, and brands in general, are following a trend without necessarily having any real interest in its morality, and the lack of regulation and standards within the ‘sustainability’ industry can leave consumers in the dark.
In many ways it is developing in a similar way to the fairtrade strand of grading supply chain accountability for goods like coffee and cocoa. In that case, it became more affordable for companies to operate an in-house spin-off bearing a synonymous title rather than actually comply with Fair Trade’s regulations, because the thing customers wanted was a way of quickly identifying something on product packaging that would offset their guilt.
In the same way, sustainability is just the latest aesthetically-pleasing buzzword. But even as more brands adopt the term, the fashion industry is increasingly structured to maximise speed and newness. “Dropshippers” are the perfect example of this. Third parties that allow companies to bypass stocking stock, but rather fulfil based on orders, they allow brands to react incredibly fast to trends.
The fact is, that living sustainably…