Sustainability: The ‘Buzz Word’

WRITTEN BY Aoife Rooney

May 27, 2024

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Sustainability: The ‘Buzz Word’

by | May 27, 2024 | Fashion & Lifestyle

Aoife Rooney

27 May, 2024

‘Sustainability’ has become a buzzword term that has been diluted and misused in the fashion industry, losing its true meaning and impact.

Sustainability seems to have taken on an elitist and even imperialistic connotation. It is a piggy-in-the-middle game where the North dominates how it is played. The North has been purchasing, producing, and discarding fashion for generations according to trends. All the while, the rich have become more affluent, and the poor have become poorer while pollution, waste, and population has grown. This unbalanced differentiation between the North and South of the world is the culprit to our unsustainability. Social equity between generations and sustainability in all countries, particularly the essential needs of the world’s poor, is vital for real progressive and meaningful sustainable transformation of the world’s economy and society.

But what does ‘sustainability’ even mean anymore? So many fashion brands equate it to the environment, but what about the social impact?

Environment, society, and economy are interconnected. Sustainability is a holistic concept encompassing socioeconomic, environmental, and economic dimensions. We cannot deprive anybody of life essentials. Overuse of planetary resources for generations poses a significant threat to our future. Meeting the needs of both parties involved is crucial to achieve genuine sustainability. However, when it comes to the fashion industry and the Global South community, not all of the 12 dimensions from the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) apply. These dimensions include food, water, energy, well-being, equal education, work and income, peace and justice, a political voice, social equity, gender equality, housing, and global partnerships. Unfortunately, this results in critical human deprivation. 

In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) published the Brundtland Report ( Our Common Future 1983). It stated, “The Earth is one, but the world is not. We all depend on one biosphere to sustain our lives. Yet each community, each country, strives for survival and prosperity with little regard for its impact on others. Some consume the Earth’s resources at a rate that would leave little for future generations. Others, many more in number, consume far too little and live with the prospect of hunger, squalor, disease, and early death.”

Greenwashing. Bluewashing.

Transparency and accountability are crucial in sustainability, and one industry that tends to exaggerate its sustainability efforts is the fashion industry. Sustainability in fashion requires a comprehensive, holistic approach. Fast fashion is becoming more rapid, and at the same time, it seems like everywhere we look, brands are using terms like ‘eco-friendly‘ ‘sustainable‘ and good old reliable “recycled packaging” to describe their products; either that or brands are paying their way using self-evaluated annual certificates and phantom credits to do their greenwashing for them. Thankfully, legislation for all is here, and more is on its way for some honest transparency, equality, equity and level playing grounds. 

Regulations

The Green Claims Initiative holds brands accountable. It prevents businesses from greenwashing by making vague and misleading claims and general terms of “green“, “eco-friendly“, and “planet friendly” unless they are supported by evidence of the familiar EU eco-label. The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles promotes circular fashion. Circular fashion aims to restore and regenerate natural systems by promoting using recycled and regenerated materials, keeping materials in the loop. Simultaneously, the ESPR (Eco-design for Sustainable Products Regulation) ensures that every product on the EU market is eco-friendly and honest. By implementing measures such as a ban on destroying unsold items, introducing a “product passport,” annual waste reports, and legislation, we can combat greenwashing and promote inclusivity, diversity, equality, and equity.

Can fashion and lifestyle brands achieve full sustainability? 

While it’s true that no person or brand can be perfect, and there is no way to make clothes without any environmental impact, many ‘sustainable slow brands’ offer a better option for dressing less harmfully. These brands prioritise the well-being of people and the environment over profits, and their products reflect this commitment. Some examples of these international brands include Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Reformation, all known for their sustainable practices and high-quality products.

Sustainable Irish brands

We looked closer to home and asked a few Irish sustainable brands what sustainability means to them. Zelia Madigan @conscious_convert, founder and CEO of Conscious Convert, an organic lifestyle brand, believes that sustainability is about finding the right balance so that people, communities, and the environment can survive without compromising the future of our children and their children. She emphasises that we are responsible for protecting both people and the planet, as they need each other to thrive. We couldn’t agree more. Environmentalism and sustainability are about creating a cleaner environment, promoting healthy living conditions, and striving for social justice. 

Eoin Gavin @eoin.gavin, an Irish stylist, believes that sustainability also means supporting local, sustainable designers, whether students or established professionals and helping them sustain their businesses and brands. He emphasises that consumers have the power to influence the fashion industry by choosing to support sustainable brands and practices. Embracing a shared lifestyle and clean, balanced living can positively impact physical and mental health while benefiting multiple generations. Cop28 reminds us that we must ‘Leave no one behind‘ to thrive together.

Justice

Sustainability is all about how everything in our world is connected. It’s about balance, just like the ecosystem. Julie, the founder of Bold Lines Jewellery @boldlinesjewellery, believes that true sustainability is a long journey for small businesses. It involves continuously educating oneself and others and ensuring that low-impact habits are in place, from the product’s concept to the delivery of the piece to customers. Sustainable education and knowledge sharing can positively impact our environment, society, and economy by considering the effects of our actions while making decisions to create change. 

Sharon, the founder of Kokoro @kokoro_zenwear, a sustainable fashion brand, describes sustainability as loving the planet. They create positive, ethical, and organic clothing for a growing community of environmentally conscious people who love fashion and our planet equally. 

Maria, the founder of @shegoesrogue, a sustainable couture brand, believes sustainability means showing respect. This includes respect for the Earth and its future inhabitants, respect for clothes and the value they hold, and respect for the people who make our clothes.

These Irish sustainable designers believe adopting a holistic approach is crucial for achieving sustainability. This approach considers the interdependent relationships between people, nature, and objects that form a complex whole. It reminds us that our actions have far-reaching consequences, no matter how small.

Global interdependence

Addressing global issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and cultural awareness requires prioritising sustainable practices for a stable future. Adopting sustainable practices is essential to prevent depletion of natural resources, habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, and degraded ecosystems. In 2024, companies must take a stand and ask tough questions about tax, employment rights, equality, and labour in the supply chain. It’s time to make a real difference.

How do we ensure sustainability is a genuine commitment, not just a buzzword? 

We can build a symbiotic world based on mutual respect by making sustainable choices and initiating dialogues about intelligent green living. Working together, we aim to achieve net-zero emissions and create a better future for future generations.

As a consumer, you can contribute to sustainability in the fashion industry without being a heroic activist like Greta Thunberg or Dominique Palmer! By supporting brands that prioritise sustainability, demand transparency, and make conscious purchasing decisions, you can help drive positive change in the industry.

Simply reflecting on our daily consumption and asking essential questions about our habits is enough to ignite positive change. Are your toothbrush and cleaning products eco-friendly? Do you take shorter showers? Are you making sustainable purchases? How do you travel and invest? We all know the three R’s: reducing, reusing, and recycling. Questioning our actions and decisions is the first step towards a more sustainable future.

Collaborating, committing to sustainability, and avoiding diluting its meaning through greenwashing or tokenism is imperative. Mindfully using the term’s definition rather than using it as a mere buzzword is vital.

 Values

Sustaining life and achieving sustainability can often feel daunting and immense. However, as human beings, our very essence is closely linked to our connection with the natural world. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat are the same things that keep us alive and sustain us every single day. From a psychological standpoint, our minds are shaped by the world around us throughout the day. To predict or change the future, we must create it now. To achieve sustainable change, we must examine our societal values and the systems surrounding us, truly understanding the various dimensions of sustainability.

5 Comments

  1. Sharon Farren

    Great article Aoife

    Reply
    • Aoife Rooney

      Thank you, Sharon and your dedication to sustainable fashion.

      Reply
    • Julie

      Thanks Aoife& Damian, great article

      Reply
  2. Sharon Farren

    Thanks for supporting Sustainability Aoife

    Reply
  3. Zelia Madigan

    Well done on a very “Mindful” article on the different dimensions of Sustainability Aoife. Key that we are all aware of how people, communities and the planet impact each other positively and negatively.

    Reply

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