What is sustainability? No really…if you were asked what would be the definition that you would be able to confidently articulate to sum up this expansive word?
I thought about this myself and a lot of random words came to mind like green, eco, ethical maybe..but these are all really just synonymous and don’t give a clear definition and quite frankly get so overused it’s sometimes easy to lose track of what is at the root of it all.
According to Wikipedia, sustainability is “a property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive infinitely.”
Ok..better. But what does that mean? When I read this for the first time the word that stuck out instantly was INFINITELY…
How in the world can a system infinitely remain diverse and infinitely remain productive?
Well, productive is a form of the word produce so I guess what that really means is to produce infinitely.
In order to produce infinitely you either need to:
a) have unlimited resources or
b) have the ability to maintain, replenish, and prevent the depletion of the finite resources that exist.
Ok, so now that we have that sorted, what then does sustainability mean in relation to fashion?
When you break it down it is really quite simple. Sustainability in relation to fashion means creating a system where the finite resources (people, planet) can be preserved and protected from depletion.
This idea should, fundamentally, be at the core of all fashion – both business and design – in order to guarantee achievable longevity of quality and satisfactory (not surplus) output. At the very root of all that we create and consume should be a system which protects resources through little to no waste production, investment in worker efficiencies through well being, an output that is not damaging to the environment in which it is made and consumed and that can be recycled back into the system after it has maximized its end use.
The problem, however, exists within our current systems themselves. Most systems in fashion were not built with this fundamental, circular idea in mind.
So what is sustainability? It is the ability to preserve and protect inputs in a system from becoming obsolete to achieve consistent and theoretically infinite output. Today, so many people are talking about sustainability without a lot of context of what it really means.
And with all of these ‘terms’ floating around like green, eco, ethical – it is easy to get lost and start to blend it all together. But it is an intricate subject with many layers and those words that we all blend together have separate definitions that deserve to stand alone in their own right.
So in conclusion, sustainability has the ability to be extremely powerful – as long as we don’t forget the true definition.