This article is the eighth in a series of explanations of fashion’s pressing need for more environmentally-conscious business, sourcing, and production methods.

Today we’re asking, what might it really mean to be a sustainable business?




conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.

"our fundamental commitment to sustainable development"

-Oxford English Dictionary

At SynZenBe, the first transactional and discovery platform for sustainable textile sourcing, we proudly source sustainability-conscious products such as organic cotton, recycled cotton, Repreve recycled polyester, hemp, linen, and others. Because we know that pursuing and understanding “sustainable fashion” is critical: more and more, customers are appreciating—if not demanding—that apparel companies embrace environmental consideration and stewardship.

It’s possible that brands who fail to make small but noticeable changes to their supply chains will be considered outdated and lose consumers to brands who do their part to address the ecological concern. But of course, being more “sustainable” is not an easy pursuit, especially when trying to maintain a production calendar and turn a profit. Nonetheless, every small effort is necessary and collectively, such efforts constitute a positive redirection.

Today, however, we’re analysing a tricky topic that inevitably arises when brands aim to embrace “sustainability”: greenwashing.

What’s that? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it’s the act of making people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is. In additional words, it’s a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization's products, aims, and policies are environmentally friendly.

Just because a company adopts one sustainable practice, doesn’t mean it’s a sustainable brand. For examples:

A large fashion conglomerate responsible for mass overproduction builds a sustainable capsule collection—but the marketing of this eco-conscious capsule is just an attempt to direct public opinion (and criticism) toward a very small part of production and profit when most of the company’s work and revenue stems from the very un-sustainable departments

A start-up professing to prioritize sustainable sourcing uses fabric made of recycled plastic bottles in the production of some of its garments, but most of its best-selling garments are made of traditional PET polyester, which emits microplastics into our water supplies

A well-known brand promotes its use of organic cotton in a new line of work shirts, but these shirts still arrive in stores and customers wrapped in traditional plastic garment bags and are not made via particularly ethical labour practices

Brands or suppliers creating/using new products like mushroom leather profess to be the solution to leather, when in fact most leather in the fashion industry is already a recycled product in that leather is a by-product of the meat industry

Brands using deadstock fabric claim to be sustainable, when in fact their entire supply chain depends on the overproduction of unsustainable fabrics by unsustainable brands in the first place

Brands declare in end-of-year reports that sustainability will be at the forefront of their business practices for the next decade, but offer few ways for readers to track actual sustainable outcomes—moreover, who will actually, truly hold these brands accountable for their projections? Not someone that needs a new shirt immediately.

As you can see, it can get very finger-waggy and negative—indeed, overwhelming—to point at the cracks in various worldwide efforts at green-ness. It seems no solution is perfect, especially when we consider the energy use of various “greener” materials. (We recently learned that it takes significantly more energy to make a paper bag than a plastic bag, which means neither is better than the other.) 

Realising that the only “sustainable” thing is to produce and buy nothing, which, obviously isn't going to happen, we’re not here to point fingers. We appreciate every effort to incorporate sustainable ideas and innovations and acknowledge that the embrace of such is not always easy. Especially not if a functioning system depends on status quo sourcing.

We realise an embrace can’t come easily, and that we’re rather dependent on functioning systems, and there are millions of workers (approximately 40 million, in fact, not including corporate headquarter employees) who rely on functioning systems.

Still, if every brand can try as quickly as possible to implement certain efforts, the carbon footprint of the fashion industry should decrease faster than if no effort is made at all.

So, sure, aiming to perfect (perhaps “perfect” is a too strong word) one of the above pillars of sustainable fashion production will not make your brand fully sustainable—and touting as much will garner criticism of greenwashing. The importance is to stress transparency, highlight where you are making efforts, and admit that the process of rebuilding a complex supply chain that affects many, many people takes time. Avoid confidently professing to be newly sustainable just because one aspect of a supply chain was altered. But do, in the name of better business, let people know that your brand is “sustainability-minded” and working toward that balance between business and B-corp behaviour.

As for consumers who accuse of greenwashing, it’s important for them to support even small efforts by brands, in order to prove that shoppers do, in fact, care about environmentally-conscious initiatives.

This article has not been edited by Fibre2Fashion staff and is re-published with permission from