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Sustainability glossary

28 Jul 2023

News Sustainability glossary

To the danger of greenwashing, we can also add that the excessive use of the word "sustainability” has caused the term and its mission to be perceived as trivial, leading to the saturation of the public. The adequate description of a responsible action thus needs a new lexicon, clearer and more explanatory. In the process of analysing the communication of Fashion Brands, this study has therefore collected the key vocabulary of the current dialogue on the sustainable path.

Animal Welfare – Ensure the health, comfort, nourishment and safety of animals.

Biodiversity – Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is defined by the United Nations as "the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”.

Biodegradable – Capable of being decomposed by living microorganisms until it disappears entirely.

Closed loop – System in which products are designed, manufactured, used and handled in a circular way, avoiding waste.

Fair Trade – Certified products that comply with strict rules, not only environmental but also social and economic. These rules are in place to guarantee safe working conditions, fair remuneration, the empowerment of communities and the protection of ecosystems.

Carbon offsetting – Activity carried out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the purchase of carbon credits (offsets) that finance projects focused on reducing emissions in developing countries.

Composting – Process by which products and materials biodegrade and are transformed into non-toxic compounds that nurture plant growth.

Conscious consumerism – Purchase of responsibly produced products and/or services.

Circular design – Development of products made of reusable, recyclable and renewable materials.

Waste – Substances or materials disposed of in the production process through incineration or in landfills. In a circular economy, waste becomes raw material.

Circular economy – A system for reducing waste and pollution while keeping resources in use for as long as possible. When iterative cycles of regeneration are no longer possible, circularity also carefully considers product or material disposal.

Climate emergency – A term that expresses the urgent need to take action to reduce and halt climate change to avoid irreversible environmental and social damage.

Deadstock – Textile production surpluses from factories or designers.

Durability – Characteristic that allows a product to remain functional and relevant over a long period of time. Physical durability is achieved by carefully choosing materials and production processes, as well as maintaining and repairing the item. Emotional durability requires a timeless design or the ability of the piece to remain desirable to the consumer over time.

Made to be made again – Ability of products and materials designed and manufactured in such a way they can be disassembled and subsequently re-used, remade, recycled or composted.

End of lifeTerm that refers to the end of the useful life of a product. In a linear economy, the product would be thrown away, whereas a circular economy works to extend its life cycle by choosing durable materials, circular design, maintenance and recycling.

Collective impact – Cross-sector coordination to enable comprehensive and concerted change.

Ethical investment – The act of investing in products, services or activities deemed less socially and environmentally damaging, instead of those considered unethical or unsustainable. 

Environmental justice – A set of processes that takes into account the social aspects of climate change, ensuring the equitable treatment of all people, regardless of their geographic location, race, level of education or income, when developing and enforcing environmental rules and laws.

Social justice – It refers to justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, privileges and opportunities within society. In other words, it reflects the belief that all human beings deserve the same rights and treatment.

Recycled material – Material that is not discarded as waste but transformed into a new product or component.

Renewable material – Organic material (such as crops, trees, algae and animals), waste and by-products of biological origin (e.g., agricultural or food) from a living source that can be continuously replenished.

Climate-neutral – Reducing as far as possible emissions of all greenhouse gases (not just carbon dioxide), in addition to offsetting the remaining emissions. Climate neutrality also emphasizes other types of climate impact, such as radiative forcing from aircraft.

Carbon-neutral – Reducing as far as possible carbon dioxide emissions or balancing these emissions through compensatory actions (carbon offsetting).

Carbon footprint – One of the essential elements of Ecological Footprint calculation, the Carbon Footprint refers to the estimated volume of greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, produced (directly or indirectly) by a person, organisation or population.

Ecological footprint – Also known as the Environmental Footprint, the Ecological Footprint is the set of all environmental resources consumed by a person, organisation or population. Its measurement is the indicator by which it is estimated the consumption and waste assimilation needs in a given area of productive land.

Climate positive / Environment positive – Climate positivity goes beyond carbon neutrality: it implies the actual creation of an environmental benefit by removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than is emitted.

Nature positive – Systematically improvement of the planet’s and society’s resilience to prevent and reverse the damage done to nature. 

Regenerative production processes – Practices that increase carbon levels and the soil’s health, enriching water quality and biodiversity and improving the resilience of the ecosystem. The term "regenerative” refers to methods capable of restoring natural systems.

Design for disassembly – A design principle that allows the product to be disassembled so that components and materials can be reused, remade or recycled.

Traceability – Possibility of tracking the journey of a product at all stages of the value chain, knowing the raw materials and production processes, handling, transformation, packaging and shipping. The use of RFID and blockchain technologies are some methods currently used to provide this data, essential to today’s demand for transparency.

Recycling – Process of reconverting products and waste into new products, components or raw materials. It can be activated in the pre-consumer period, reconverting waste obtained during production, or in the post-consumer period, transforming something already used by the consumer. Recycling can be facilitated by the choice of materials in the design process, as well as by the development of effective post-consumer collection and sorting processes.

Closed-loop recycling – Term that refers to the end of the useful life of a product. In a linear economy, the product would be thrown away, whereas a circular economy works to extend its life cycle by choosing durable materials, circular design, maintenance and recycling.

Recommerce – A more selective, sophisticated and curated approach to parts resale. The recent expansion of recommerce models was driven by technological innovations that enabled the professionalisation of online platforms and logistics, as well as a change in public perception due to the attractiveness of using second-hand pieces.

Remake – Operation by which a product is created from pre-existing products and components. To update and improve the physical and emotional durability of the item, these processes may include the deconstruction of the product or simply its dyeing.

Repair – Operation by which a damaged product or component is restored to a usable state. Repair is a fundamental strategy for keeping products in use, ensuring their physical and emotional longevity.

Social responsibility – The principle that holds an individual or company accountable to society, dictating a mandatory balance between economic growth and community well-being.

Reuse – Operation by which a material or product is used repeatedly and for long periods of time, without being significantly modified, remade or recycled.

Nature-based solutions – Solutions that are born or inspired by nature and offer environmental, economic and social benefits.

Transparency – The capacity to provide clear and detailed information about a certain activity to all actors in the value chain, including the consumer. Basic principles of transparency include public disclosure of the entire supply chain, financial reporting and sustainable practices.

Upcycling – Recycling of a product or material that results in something new, of higher value.