Glossary of Sustainability

A Bellwether Insight

Photo: Alex Loup
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This is an ever-growing list of terms that often come up when we talk about sustainability. You can use this glossary of sustainability when making goals for your business, or educating your workforce (or yourself!) on sustainable business practices. For us, this was an opportunity to truly learn our ABC’s, as we can’t count the number of times we had to say them out loud to put all these in order.

Animal welfare — the wellbeing of the animals as they are raised and the way farmers kill them to sell off parts of the animal.

B-corporation — a company that meets the highest standards of environmental and social protections, as well as transparency reporting; certified by a third-party, the non-profit B Lab.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) — a type of gas released through the use of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil; produced through activities like forestry, industrial processes and land use.

Carbon Offset — a credit that is purchased in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in one place to compensate for emissions made in another place.

Cellulose Fibers/Fabrics — any fabric that is derived from a natural source, in which that source is broken down to create a fiber, using chemicals.

Certification — the process of validating your sustainability claims by a third party organization, either governmental or non-governmental.

Chemical Management — all the processes and standards you have put into affect to monitor the use of chemicals in the product process.

Circular Economy — a way of doing business that tries to eliminate waste and continually reuse and recycle resources with its supply chain.

Climate Change — the change in Earth’s weather, atmosphere and other conditions over a long period of time, such as global warming.

Critical consumerism — also called conscious consumerism or conscious consumption, is when a consumer decides to buy a product with the intention of helping the planet, or because of an ethical or political belief.

CSR — stands for ‘corporate social responsibility,’ or the self-regulation of your business practices to be more sustainable.

Customer Welfare — all the processes and standards you have put into affect to provide reasonable prices, safe products and a sustainable future for your customers.

Deadstock Fabrics — unused, unsold or sample fabrics that are limited in yardage; but, mostly available for use or sale.

Deforestation — the process of converting natural forests to land suitable for large-scale farming.

Durability — making sure a garment is high quality and will not fail in a way that makes the garment unusable, like ripping or becoming misshapen after laundering.

Eco-Friendly — any practice that is not harmful or has a greatly reduced impact on the environment and the overall wellbeing of the Earth and its ecosystems.

Emissions — any release of a, usually harmful, gas into the environment. These are sometimes called ‘carbon emissions’ or ‘greenhouse gas emissions.’

Employee Welfare —  all of the processes and standards you have put into affect to provide reasonable pay, safe working conditions and a sustainable future for your employees.

End to End product development — a way to create products or services, by considering the entire lifecycle of the product or service. This would include raw material inputs through customer disposal and recycling back into the product development process.

Energy Efficiency — the use of low wattage lighting and other technology to reduce the need for power in your workspaces and in your supply chain.

Environmental Welfare — all of the processes and standards you have put into affect to protect the Earth’s flora and fauna, and make sure it is supported into the future.

Fauna — all of the Earth’s animals.

F-Gases — a group of gases that are released by industrial processes, refrigeration and the use of many consumer products.

Flora — all of the Earth’s plants.

Footprint — the measure of a person, country, industry or specific business’ impact on the Earth and its ecosystems. Often referred to as ‘carbon footprint.’

Give Back Program — a program in which you donate time (volunteer) or money to a charitable organization; usually through the sale of your products.

Global Warming — the increase in the Earth’s average temperature over a long period of time. This is often used and confused as climate change.

Globalization — the process of a business growing into countries outside of its headquarters in an effort to increase profits.

Glocalization — the process of expanding a business internationally, while finding ways to support local economies and ecosystems.

GOTS (The Global Organic Textile Standard): a certification process for organic fibers.

Gray Water — domestic wastewater that comes from our kitchens, bathrooms and laundry. This usually contains some amount of micro-plastics, especially from laundering our clothes.

Green Plus — a marketing concept that explores how sustainability fits into a product purchase decision, understanding that a ‘green’ product will not be the only determining factor on if a customer purchases.

Greenwashing — when a business makes a claim about how they are sustainable that is either misleading or not true.

ISO an NGO that provides industry standards for various supply chain processes to ensure quality, safety and efficiency.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) — a certification process for buildings and retrofitted spaces, that ensures you use environmentally-friendly materials and processes for building a space.

Life cycle assessment — a simple framework for measuring your impact, using standards put out by the ISO, that compiles all of your impacts from the time you create the idea or product to the time it is disposed of and potentially recycled.

Localization — the process of adapting a product or service to a local market, and giving back to that market through supportive business practices.

Living wage — an income that meets the basic needs of a person, like food, housing, clothing and other essential items. In the overwhelming majority of garment factories, people are paid a subsistence wage, or the lowest possible wage a worker would need to simply make it to work.

Lyocell — a soft-handed, drapey fabric made from tree pulp.

Methane (CH4) — a type of gas released through agricultural activities, animal waste and energy use. This gas becomes trapped over millions of years and can be released as the Earth warms up.

Micro-plastics — very small pieces of plastic that is the result of larger pieces of plastic breaking down. These pieces of plastic are created while plastic decomposes (plastic doesn’t actually fully decompose, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller bits of plastic), but can also be released when we launder our clothes.

Natural — something that comes from the Earth, regardless of how it’s processed. This is often confused with organic.

Nitrous Oxide (N20) — a type of gas released by fertilizer use and other agricultural activities, as we all the processing of fossil fuels.

Organic — something that is produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or other artificial agents.

Peace silk — a more humane way to process silk, in which silkworms are allowed to leave their cocoons before the silk is harvested.

PVC (polyvinvyl chloride) — a type of plastic (synthetic chemical) used in many leather alternatives (like vegan leather). Greenpeace notes that PVC is the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics.

Recycled Fibers/Fabrics — any fabric that is derived from waste created in the production cycle or waste created by customers/consumers.

Renewable Energy — any power that is created using renewable materials, like wind or solar energy. Traditional energy creation methods, like natural gas or coal, are considered not renewable, because we only have a finite amount of those materials on Earth and cannot create more quickly.

Shared Value — the value created by your company and its products, such that your company and its products create value for people, profits and planet, while those things create value for your company.

Supply Chain Management — all of the processes and standards you have put into affect to work with your supply chain in an efficient way.

Supply Chain Mapping — visually laying out your supply chain process to look for regional efficiencies in the form of environmentally friendly shipping, logistics, packaging and more.

Sustainability — the adoption of strategies by individuals & businesses, in an effort to coexist with Earth’s ecosystems, and survive into the future.

Synthetic — something that is manmade, usually using chemical ingredients and processes. 

Take Back Program — a method for customers to return unwanted clothing to your brand for recycling.

Tanning — the process of finishing leather so it is suitable for use on apparel and accessories. It uses an extremely toxic chemical called ‘chromium.’

Tencel — a branded version of lyocell, which is made from tree pulp in a closed loop water system, developed by the company Lenzing.

Traceability — the ability to track your product throughout its lifecycle, down to where the fibers and other materials were sourced. In this process, you will look to your supply chain for data and insights about what kind of environmental and human impact a particular process has.

Transitional Cotton — a type of cotton product that is not organic, but does not use the amount or types of chemicals of traditionally grown cotton. It is grown in fields that are becoming organic. To be certified organic, a field usually has to sit for a number of years so that the chemicals exit the soil and new crops can be grown on that land using ‘organic’ pesticides and insecticides.

UN Sustainable Development Goals — The United Nations established their ‘Sustainable Development Goals,’ which many organizations use as a set of goals for their sustainable business practices; including the fashion charters and pacts, non-profit organizations and others. You can find more information about these goals on the UN’s website. Many initiatives, like the G7 Fashion Pact and the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Change use the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a benchmark.

Viscose — a silk-like fabric made from wood pulp.

Waste Management — all of the processes and standards you have put into affect to reuse, recycle or dispose of the waste created during your production processes.

Every single one of these terms is used in our Sustainability Basics for Fashion Business Courses. The Sustainability Basics for Fashion Business course will teach you the basics of sustainable business strategies, by defining what it means to be ‘green’ and what that means for your day to day operations.