From a reliable sustainability definition to what it really means to be carbon neutral, we took stock of all the phrases and words that are commonly misunderstood and distilled their meanings. This list will be constantly updated as new words enter the sustainability conversation, and we welcome readers to submit their requests for terms to define. Consider this your go-to resource for cutting through the misinformation.
The experiments carried out on animals through the production of a product, from testing to research, used to determine the safety of a product for human use. It is illegal in most countries, but regulatory agencies worldwide do require medicines to be tested on animals before they move on to clinical human trials. That means if any ingredient used in the pharmaceutical industry is used in a cosmetic, the ingredient itself was likely tested on animals even if the final product wasn’t.
The way an animal is impacted, both physically and mentally, by human practices.
The technology that digital currencies like Bitcoin are built on. Every single transaction is tracked, so records are easy to verify. That clear transaction history means goods can be easily tracked, and a consumer can have access to more information about their origin.
The amount of carbon dioxide, or any other greenhouse gases, released into the environment via human activity. It is difficult to measure that output, and depending on where you go to calculate your footprint, you might get a different result.
The actions that businesses and individuals take to minimise their carbon footprint, typically done by removing an amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that is equal to what their actions produced. This often can not be fully realised, and working towards neutrality has to be done in tandem with developing a strategy to reduce emissions from every single operation within a business.
The process of removing carbon from the atmosphere equal to the amount you released into it. Contributing to reforestation, donating to clean energy providers or participating in any of the projects The Gold Standard offsets are good ways to offset emissions. But there is no quick fix, and the first step should always be to reduce your emissions.
A linear economy is based on a ‘make, use, dispose’ life cycle, but a circular economy keeps resources in use for as long as possible, maximising their use along the way. Products and materials are then recovered and regenerated, and the cycle continues.
This was coined to describe beauty products that are mindfully produced and free from ingredients that are harmful to people, animals and the planet. But, because the term is open to interpretation, it can turn into a form of greenwashing.
A product that can break down into its natural elements in the right environment, and no toxic substances are produced or left behind once it’s fully broken down.
Someone who considers the social, environmental, ecological, and political impact of both what they buy and how they buy it, but most consumers today are in one way or another conscious
Fully understanding the origins of every raw material use in a production process, and supervising your supply chain to ensure that every step is as sustainable as possible.
Products, services, laws and policies, that claim to reduce, minimise or eliminate environmental impact. There are no guidelines to regulate the use of this term, but there is a perception from consumers that an eco-friendly label might mean a product of lesser quality, which is a mindset that brands should be trying to shift.
This describes ethical design, production, retail and consumption. It includes things like working conditions, fair trade practices, sustainable production and animal welfare. It is broad and open to interpretation and can be misused and applied to all businesses, big and small, that are at various stages of integrating the principles of sustainability into their practices.
A method of producing clothing and accessories as quickly as possible to keep up with always-changing trends. It often leads to a cheaper, lower-quality product that contributes to a throwaway culture.
Fur-free and exotics-free
Not using animal furs or exotic skins in business practices over a period of time. Just because a business is fur-free or exotics-free, it does not necessarily make it sustainable, but it does make it more responsible.
When gender has no impact on a person’s access to rights and opportunities, and everyone’s opinions, needs and behaviours are valued equally in a discrimination-free environment.
This is a marketing tool used to describe the inflation of a positive environmental impact or to make unsubstantiated claims about efforts to protect the environment.
When there are no synthetic compounds and/or processes in a product’s formulation. The term ‘natural’ is currently unregulated by the FDA, USDA and EU which means just one natural ingredient in a formulation can lead to calling something ‘natural.’
Recyclable vs. recycled
If something is recyclable, it means it can be broken down into raw materials, sold to manufacturers and turned into something new, and this can happen more than once. It’s important to remember that, just because something is recycled, it doesn’t always mean it is recyclable.
This generally applies to the beauty and food industries, and it refers to packaging that can be used and reused multiple times, limiting waste. Using refillable, reusable packaging is not enough to make a company sustainable, but it does minimise waste and environmental impact.
In 1980, Gro Harlem Brundtland, a two-term Prime Minister of Norway, said sustainability is about “meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.” Based on that, a business can call itself sustainable when it integrates the principles of sustainability into the culture of the business and into all business processes.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
A collection of 17 global benchmarks set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 to reach by 2030. The SDGs were designed for countries, but they are useful for businesses as frameworks when developing their own sustainability targets.
Honesty across all parts of a business, and a willingness to fully communicate with a consumer. That means being 100% truthful about the steps you are taking to lessen your negative impact on the environment. This is the opposite of greenwashing.
The process of turning by-products, waste materials and otherwise unwanted items into new materials. This can result in higher-quality products with a minimised negative environmental impact.
A person who does not consume anything that is an animal product or byproduct, or a good or service that is free from animal products and byproducts. If a brand is vegan, this does not mean it’s sustainable. If they are using synthetics instead (see below), it could be increasing their negative environmental impact.
A material that looks and feels like leather, typically made with cork, barkcloth, glazed cotton, waxed cotton, paper, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polyurethane. Materials like PVC and polyurethane are synthetic, difficult to recycle and do not biodegrade. Their smallest form is granulation, and it can take decades to get to it.
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Written by - Tara MacInnis