Sustainable Vs. Ethical: What's the Difference?

Sustainable Vs. Ethical: What's the Difference?

"Sustainable" and "ethical" are two words that are often used interchangeably. The truth: the two are indicative of distinct initiatives aligned in their movements for change.

Sustainability is largely focused on addressing issues related to the environment such as over-consumption, habitat degradation, and climate change. Sustainable brands hope to mitigate these issues through conscious production and design. This can mean using raw materials that prolong the lifespan of the good, can easily be composted or recycled after use, or that eliminate the need for additional products. Developing a circular production style, in much the way the refill market is currently exploring, is one of many sustainable goals. A brand that is interested in the environment and reducing its global footprint might pursue actions to become climate neutral, B-Corp certified, or non-GMO certified.

Ethical goods have less to do with the environment, and more to do with the production and people behind the goods. For years, mass manufacturing abroad has been a way for United States based brands to increase product output without providing for basic human necessities. Many of these facilities expose their workers to conditions such as poor ventilation, inadequate workspace, insufficient lighting, or uncomfortably/dangerously high or low temperatures. In addition to this, they receive far less compensation than what would be regulated in other countries. An ethical brand is interested in supporting practices that align with human rights, supporting local artisans, and fair labor. Rather than always using the most environmentally conscious materials, they might instead focus on attaining materials that have been harvested locally, by workers paid a fair a livable wage, or by minority run businesses. They might also be interested in becoming Fair Trade Certified, which strictly regulates sourcing to improve supply chain transparency.

It's important to note, just because a brand is sustainable doesn't mean it also can't be ethical. These ideas both work toward a larger goal of fostering growth in our environment (and no, not just the outdoorsy kind). Fortunately for us, they aren't competing factions, and continue to work in tandem or singularly to maintain balance and order for many organizations.

Although the phrases are most frequently used to describe clothing, any consumable good is capable of being sustainable and/or ethical: from fruits and vegetables to cars. Knowing your own personal missions and interests can help decide which brands to support. Where able, shop brands that support both the people & planet.

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