What is sustainability? This is a question many of us are asking ourselves at the moment, as we struggle to find the right balance between economic growth and environmental impact. Sustainable clothing – including products made from sustainable resources such as plant-based fabrics and dyed-permanent inks – can be a key element in creating an acceptable level of sustainability in our communities. However, what does sustainability actually mean? Is it enough to say that something is sustainable if it does not harm the environment? The truth is that no-one can choose what fate a sustainable garment or production will have to face, as the consequences of such a chain of events is always going to be determined by the actions of those responsible for making such decisions.
As such, the most critical importance of sustainability to those who seek to protect the environment is the ability to demonstrate that one has created a product that will reduce negative impacts on the planet and reduce negative impacts on people. A key part of this is ensuring that the parties responsible for the manufacture of such garments or production of such materials pay attention to the impact of the products they produce on the environment. While “greenwashing” may seem to suggest that there is something wrong with paying attention to the impact that certain materials or activities have on the environment, in fact it means the same thing as “ethical greenwashing”. So long as the parties responsible for manufacturing a product is able to demonstrate that the levels of emissions, use of materials, and other detrimental aspects of production are less than those of similar products produced using traditional processes, they are likely to be able to convince the public that the sustainability of the materials they are producing is equivalent to the sustainability of products they produce.
In order to ensure sustainability of garment suppliers or companies, the key principle to bear in mind is that while it is still very important to provide ethical green clothing, it is equally important to pay attention to the impact that the production process has on the environment. If the main aim of these industries is to have ethical green clothing and remain in business, then sustainability is an important part of their overall strategy. By ensuring that such sustainable garment producers are not only green but also ethical, the industry has an opportunity to make a major impact on the direction of environmental change. They can work with other stakeholders, such as environmental NGOs, to find the best ways of reducing harmful emissions and re-using materials.
Are eco-labels good enough?
The big debate in sustainable development circles, even today, is whether or not labelling a product as sustainable is truly enough to claim that it is environmentally friendly.
Eco-labelling is a voluntary method of environmental performance labelling that is practiced around the world. An eco-label identifies products or services proven to be environmentally preferable within a specific category of products.
The way labels influence people is to be considered as well here. When you see a red colored label you instantly remember ‘coca-cola’, in the same way seeing green colored labels leave you with a sense of being ‘eco friendly’ when you buy products with those labels. Label-psychology is something many brands have been trying to master and one such thing is eco-labels. When you look at a certified eco-labelled product you instantly are drawn to buy it to satisfy the guilt of not ruining the planet.
An eco-label makes the customer more aware of the benefits of buying the specific products, for example, recycled paper or toxic free cleaning agents. It also promotes energy efficiency, waste minimization and product stewardship. Customers of such products can see the environmental effects of such products decline over a period of time.
For eco-labelling to work it is essential that the labels on products meet the standards they advertise. The manufacturers have to apply to independent certification authorities for a licence to display a label which is only granted if their product meets specific criteria.
From the point of view of the environment, labelling a product as sustainable is of course important, but the information a consumer wants will vary according to the individual customer’s lifestyle. For instance, a fair price is important to a company’s bottom line, but how exactly does a shopper go about deciding whether a garment is genuinely sustainable?
To answer this question, it is important to consider that consumers are interested in a variety of factors when they buy an ecologically sustainable garment. For example, consumers will usually prefer garments that use natural fibres, or fabrics made from recycled materials, to ones that are made from petroleum-based fibres, or those made from synthetic fabrics.
Another factor that customers tend to value is whether the materials used to manufacture an ecologically sustainable garment are sustainable themselves. Manufacturers use chemicals to make products easily and at a low cost and considering whether the chemicals could harm the consumer or not is mostly of low importance to them. Some potentially harmful materials such as polyester is known to cause cancer if used for a long term. The fact that consumer health is a topic of discussion does not however deem it unnecessary or a point of ignorance.
This is why more and more manufacturers are taking the route to sustainable development. Consumer preferences are evolving and now, even if people see the low cost of a product, they contemplate whether it is however the right product or not.
Finally, it is also important to remember that sustainability is synonymous with good business. All in all, the answer to the question, “is labelling a product ‘eco’ good ?”-absolutely, but is it enough? Only time will tell! It is by the virtue of the ethics of the manufacturer or brand and research done by a consumer to have a check on the sanctity of what goes on the label.

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