The Ambiguous Promise of Commercial Sustainability

Companies that promote sustainability practices seem to be on the rise as more consumers realize the importance of promoting more ethical practices and consumption in their daily lives, according to Medium magazine. But brands that market themselves as sustainable often have a long way to go, according to the article.

The fashion industry has been struggling with sustainability in its brands, especially commercial ones. Commercial fashion is synonymous with the mass production of clothes, especially in less than ethical conditions. Larger corporations such as H&M have pledged efforts towards a more sustainable future, starting with increased transparency about their production process and using organic textiles compared to harmful synthetic ones. Several other brands, most notably Reformation, have prided themselves as a sustainable brand at its core, complete with their respective transparency reports and their locally-sourced fabrics and manufacturing.

Sustainability is often hard to define as many iterations of the word has been applied to anything, ranging from pledging carbon-neutral fashion shows to producing clothes from upcycled materials. And reports about fashion brands shows that what they offer in sustainability they often lack in other factors such as the effects of outsourcing organic textiles to other countries. Organic cotton, for example, still puts a strain on drought-ridden areas such as India and China.

One report notes that the majority of garment workers outside the UK do not have any negotiating power over their pay and working conditions. This means that despite promises of sustainability, workers are still not guaranteed that reasonable working hours and wages that appropriately reflect the labor that they put into these clothes. It also has not helped that there have been accusations of unsafe work environments, with Reformation’s executives coming under fire for accusations of racism within its executive levels and its refusal to diversify its models.

The problem extends past the fashion industry. Plastic straws have been often the lynchpin of reducing single-use plastic items, with many cities and corporations banning them or announcing plans to phase them out by a certain date. Starbucks in particular has announced that it will replace its plastic straws with a Nitro lid for its cold drinks, but news organizations have noted that the new lid has more plastic in terms of weight compared to a plastic straw and a regular plastic lid. Starbucks, in response, has contested that the Nitro lid is made of recyclable plastic that could be caught and processed in modern recycling equipment.

Despite many brands marketing themselves as sustainable, how can consumers be sure that a brand is totally sustainable in the first place? This brings forward the need to discuss what is sustainability in the first place. As with the examples above, even points that are generally agreed upon are still lacking in other aspects. A company certainly cannot be perfect on all counts, but first and foremost there should be regulating committees that can define how sustainable it is and ensure that sustainability also comes with good company practices and rights for its workers.

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