Today I wanted to talk about something that I’ve been curious about recently. As I’ve become more aware of the environmental impact of fashion, I’ve begun to consume more consciously. With this, I’ve started to notice a bunch of different words being used to describe what seems to be the same thing. It can get pretty confusing to know what to look for. What’s the difference between ethical and sustainable? What does it mean for a product to be Fair Trade Certified? What’s a B Corp?
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common terms:
Sustainability means the item or action is generating environmental, social and economic benefits, while not using up too many resources or causing pollution. It refers to the environmental costs of production, including the use of pesticides, dyeing and finishing, water and waste treatment, energy reduction, material choice, and packaging. In order to truly be sustainable, a company must consider the impact of a product throughout its entire lifecycle. Make sure you do your research on companies or products claiming to be sustainable. There are varying levels of sustainability and no enforced set of rules that must be followed in order for a company to claim that they are sustainable.
The word “ethical” is associated with human rights and the morals of manufacturing. Ethical fashion refers to how a garment was made, from how the cotton was grown to how garment workers are treated and paid to who packages and delivers the products. If a product or company is “ethically made,” it means there was no sweatshop labor, child labor, worker abuse, discrimination, or slavery. It also means that workers received fair pay, had the right to unionize, and worked in safe conditions. Sometimes sustainability and animal treatment is also included under the “ethical” umbrella.
Ethical fashion is considered a broader term and can encompass both Fair Trade and sustainable fashion. Fair Trade is always ethical fashion, but ethical fashion is not necessarily Fair Trade. There is technically no set of rules, practices, or governing body to ethical fashion, so it’s always good to do your research when you come across a brand or product claiming to be ethical.
Fair Trade is more regulated because it only comes with certification from an international governing body, such as Fair Trade Certified, the Fair Trade Federation, Equal Exchange, or the World Fair Trade Organization. According to the WFTO, “Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.”
When you see a product with the Fair Trade Certified™ seal, you can be sure it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. People making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities. Examples of Fair Trade companies are Patagonia, Athleta, PrAna, REI, and Obey.
Learn more here.
B Corp Certification is the most regulated and exclusive certification out there. Certified B Corporations balance both purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.
B Corp Certification is the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance. The B Impact Assessment evaluates how a company’s operations and business model impact their workers, community, environment, and customers. From their supply chain and input materials to your charitable giving and employee benefits. Examples of B Corps are Patagonia, Athleta, Nisolo, Allbirds, and Eileen Fisher.
Learn more here.
Check out my shopping list for examples of sustainable and ethical companies.