Blog: Leonie BarrieDemystifying the sustainability debate

Leonie Barrie | 3 June 2009

Retailers, brands and manufacturers are repeatedly being told that to be viable in the long-term they must be as ethical, sustainable and environmentally-friendly as possible, since even cash-strapped shoppers still care about the provenance of their clothing. But what exactly does this mean?

There’s certainly more to it than simply switching to organic cotton in some of your clothing lines. But surprisingly, given the buzz that surrounds the whole issue of sustainability, there is no clear definition of what it stands for – and even less information on how to achieve it.

So the University of Delaware should be applauded for trying to put the debate into context with its guide to “Creating a More Environmentally Sustainable Apparel Business: Policies for Apparel Brands and Retailers.”

Recommendations from the University’s Sustainable Apparel Initiative (UDSAI) include cutting excess manufacturing by balancing supply with demand, learning from your mistakes, and thinking about a garment’s end-of-life when choosing materials, designing, and producing it.

Yes they might seem simplistic, but with the general confusion surrounding the use of  phrases like “social responsibility” or “corporate citizenship,” and with many firms still making unspecific and unsupported claims about a product's environmental impact, it’s important to set out a structure that can be easily followed.



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