Our alphabetical terminology page will help you to understand all of the terms used in the sustainability movement. This can help you to combat greenwashing and support the sustainable fashion industry! Knowing the meanings of these terms will prevent you from being misled by any companies whose ethics do not align with your own.
Terms and Definitions
Accountability - A concept of ethics that obliges a company/person to explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.
Accreditation - Third party review of an organisation's conformity with an established standard.
Artisan - A skilled craft worker who makes or creates material objects partly or entirely by hand. By supporting artisans you are also supporting their traditional expertise, skills and processes thereby preserving their cultural heritage.
Benefit - An environmentally, economically or socially positive outcome.
Biodegradable - All materials break down eventually, but some of them can take thousands of years and release harmful chemicals and substances in the process. However, biodegradable items can naturally decompose in the environment and avoid pollution.
Bio-Diversity -The variety of life in plants, species and ecosystems found in the world.
Biomimicry -A method of design that finds sustainable solutions by mimicking nature. The goal is to create products and services that are well adapted to life on earth.
Business Model - The underlying structure of how a company makes money.
By-product - A secondary product of a manufacturing process such as mass making clothes in a factory. These by-products are often gases that pollute the air.
Carbon Dioxide - A naturally occurring gas, and also a by-product of burning fossil fuels. It affects the Earth’s radiative balance.
Carbon Emissions - Polluting carbon substances released into the atmosphere: carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide produced by motor vehicles and industrial processes and forming pollutants in the atmosphere.
Carbon Footprint - Emissions of greenhouse gases from an organisation over time.
Carbon Neutral - When a company invests in one or more environmental projects to balance out the carbon emission they release during the manufacturing process.
Carbon Sequestration - The capture and storage of carbon from the atmosphere. This is possible through processes such as planting trees.
Circular Economy - An economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system, minimising the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions
Circular fashion - Circular fashion is about designing waste and pollution out of our clothes, and ensuring they help regenerate natural systems at the end of their lives.
Circular Society - Creating a system of production for goods that is designed to reduce waste and regenerate the use of the resources used in production. These are then able to be recycled and used to produce another product.
Cleaner Production Assessment (CPA) - A methodology to systematically identify and evaluate less polluting production opportunities.
Climate Change - This refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an long period of time.
Closed Loop Recycling - Collecting and capturing the components of products and putting them back into the production process to produce more goods.
Cruelty-free - Closely linked to veganism. It refers to products that have not been tested on animals.
Collective Impact - Cross-sector coordination to bring about large-scale social change. This is built on the concept that the competitiveness of a company and the health of the communities around it are mutually dependent.
Community Footprint - The impact of a business in the community where it is located.
Composting - The controlled biological decomposition of organic material in the presence of air to form compost which can be used to feed plants.
Conscious Capitalism - A form of capitalism that seeks to benefit people and the environment.
Conscious Consumerism - Consumers purchasing products and services that are produced responsibly. This is the future of the fashion industry.
Conscious Fashion - This term is often used synonymously with “ethical”, “sustainable” or “eco” fashion. Some brands use the name to imply “mindful” and “purposeful”. Make sure that you research into a brand further if they simply use this term to suggest that they practice sustainability.
Corporate Social Responsibility - A management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations.
Deforestation - Those processes that result in the conversion of forested lands for non-forest uses. This is often cited as one of the major causes of the enhanced greenhouse effect and global warming.
Deadstock Fabrics - Textiles that are no longer useful for big factories or companies. This could be because of the shape that the clothes are cut in or due to changing trends.
Dematerialisation - Repurposing what was once considered a waste material into a new resource for a product, service or process.
Direct/1st Tier Suppliers - The supplier of goods or services that are directly provided to an organisation.
Diversity/Inclusivity - A movement that directly addresses the representation of people of different races, body types, and sexualities.
Eco-friendly - Not environmentally harmful, minimising environmental damage
Eco-friendly Fashion - This is an all-encompassing term that takes many factors into account. “Eco” is short for ecology, the study of organisms and the environment. So, eco-friendly fashion are goods and services considered to inflict minimal or no harm to the environment.
Eco-label - A visual communication tool that indicates sustainable products, services, or companies that meet specific standards.
Energy Efficiency - Reduction in the amount of energy required to provide products and services.
Entrepreneur - A person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money; one who organises, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise
Environmental Claim - Any pledge or visual display about the environmental aspects of an organisation, product, or process.
Environmental Footprint - An environmental footprint is similar to a carbon footprint but includes impacts on the environment beyond gas emissions.
Environmental Management Systems - A set of processes that enable a company to measure and ultimately reduce its environmental impacts.
Ethical or Sustainable Investment - Investment in activities that have a positive environmental impact.
Ethical Fashion - This refers to clothing made in ways that value social welfare and worker rights.
Fair trade - An alternative approach to conventional trade. It is based on a partnership between producers and purchasers of products. It ensures that farmers and workers get a fair share of the benefits of trade, allowing them to be economically safe.
Fast Fashion - Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.
Gender Equality - Equal ease of access to opportunities regardless of gender.
Geothermal Energy - Electricity generated by harnessing hot water or steam from within the earth.
Global Warming - It describes an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth’s surface, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns.
Green - Used to explain basically anything that benefits the environment, from business practices to design and products
Greenhouse Effect - Trapping and build-up of heat in the atmosphere near the Earth’s surface. Some of the heat flowing back toward space from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone, and several other gases in the atmosphere and then reradiated back toward the Earth’s surface. If the atmospheric concentrations of these greenhouse gases rise, the average temperature of the lower atmosphere will gradually increase.
Green Design - The design of products and services that are sensitive to environmental issues and achieve greater efficiency in terms of energy and materials used.
Greenwashing - A form of corporate misrepresentation where a company will present a green public image and publicise green initiatives that are false or misleading. Many fashion companies do this to stay on trend and make their consumers ignore any unethical practices.
Handmade - Crafts made from only hands and tools rather than machines. Handmade products are usually of much better quality than those that are massed produced.
Impact - The adverse or beneficial effect or output of an activity, product, or substance on the environment or human health.
Landfill-free - All waste generated from operations is reused, recycled, or converted to energy.
Linear Economy - A traditional model of producing goods which takes new resources to make goods, which are discarded at the end of the product life-cycle. An example of this is the fast fashion industry.
Living Wage - A living wage is a fair salary that allows makers to make a decent salary and not remain trapped in poverty.
Microfinance - A source of financial services for individuals or small businesses lacking access to traditional banking services. It can be a sustainable means of reducing poverty by empowering entrepreneurs to build businesses, support their families and transform their communities.
Minimalism - It is about stripping back the unnecessary and leaving only the things that provide you with real value and joy. For fashion, it can mean having a minimal amount of clothes in your wardrobe that feel right for you and bring happiness.
Modern Slavery - This is the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation.
Natural capital - The world’s stock of natural assets, including geology, soil, air, water and all living things.
One of a Kind - a person or thing that is not like any other person or thing
Organic - This refers to raw materials that are not genetically modified, and have been grown without any chemical pesticides and insecticides. Organic farming practices avoid using harmful chemicals while aiming for environmental sustainability. It is now reaching the fashion industry, with more and more brands starting to offer organic options such as organic cotton.
Ozone Layer - The layer of ozone that begins approximately 15 km above Earth and thins to an almost negligible amount at about 50 km, shields the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
Pre-Loved - Pre-loved shopping refers to buying clothes, bags & other accessories that have already been used by someone else and now they are up for sale for a second time.
Pollution Prevention - Practices that reduce the creation of pollutants through increased efficiency in the use of raw materials, energy, water, or other resources, or protection of natural resources by conservation.
Rana Plaza - In 2013, the Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 workers. This industrial catastrophe, one of the worst in history, marked the start of the questioning of fast fashion and demand by consumers for more transparency.
Recycling - Collecting and reprocessing a resource so it can be used again.
Reduce - To minimise or eliminate the amount of waste produced through sustainable living practices in order to lessen an individual's or businesses environmental impact.
Renewable Energy - This is defined as energy that is derived from natural resources (such as sunlight, wind, water flow, geothermal heat, etc.) and whose supply is naturally replenished.
Restorative - Restorative means giving back to the environment and community.
Reuse - The sustainable living practice of using something several times instead of creating unnecessary waste.
Second-hand - It refers to clothes that have had a previous owner and that were donated or resold. Second-hand is one of the most sustainable fashion options out there, as you’re reducing your impact by not buying “new”, and by giving a second life to items that would have otherwise ended up being thrown away.
Slow Fashion - The movement of designing, creating, and buying garments for quality and longevity. It encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and zero waste.
Social Capital - The collective value of all social networks. The links and shared values in society that enable individuals and groups to work together.
Social Enterprise - Organisations that operate to tackle social problems, improve communities or the environment, at the same time having their own mechanism for generating financial profit. They reinvest their profits back into the business or community.
Sustainability - Focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainability also means that human practices do not result in the permanent damage, alteration or depletion of the environment, ecosystems, species or natural resources.
Sustainable - A method of using a particular resource such that the resource is not permanently damaged and can continue to be used.
Sustainable Design - Designing products, services or the built environment in keeping with principles of sustainability.
Sustainable Development - The UN definition is “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Sustainable Fashion - This refers to clothing that is designed, manufactured, distributed, and used in ways that are environmentally friendly.
Synthetic Fibres - Such as nylon and polyester, come entirely from chemicals and sometimes fossil fuels such as oil.
Third Party Certified or Verified - An entity is assessed against a standard by an independent (third party) organisation that is independent from the entity being certified (first party), and from the program that set the standard (second party).
Traceability - For a company this means knowing its supply chains from start to finish, and being able to trace back each component of a product.
Transformation - Making fundamental changes to the way business operates, rather than making incremental step changes to the status quo.
Transparency - In a sustainability context means that more and better information, visibility and openness is provided around actions taken by a company.
Triple Bottom Line - How some organisations measure the economic, social and environmental performance of a project.
Up-cycling - The process of turning waste into reusable material, but of better quality. It is about re-using and re-purposing old items to make something new, like using old bedsheets to make a top.
Value Chain - A series of activities that a business performs in order to deliver a valuable product or service for the market.
Vegan - Refers to products that have been made using zero animal products or by-products. For fashion, it means not using components like leather, wool, silk, cashmere, etc.
Vintage - for something to be considered vintage, it has to be anywhere between 20 years and less than 30 to 50 years old or in Anna Wintour's words:
“The ‘vintage’ tag can be appended to pieces of at least 20 years old. However, only if these articles showcase characteristics associated with that era”