There is a lot of new jargon surfacing in modern business around sustainability. Conversations about our economy’s impact on climate change have become more commonplace. New terms feel like they’re popping up daily. And it can be hard for effective communications around climate change to happen when some are familiar with these terms and some are not.
As part of our series of sustainability blog posts, we put together this short glossary of key sustainability terms. We use or talk about them often at Diamond Brand. For accurate and authentic communication to occur between brands and customers, we all need to be on the same page about what these terms mean and how we’re addressing them.
We’ll start with the term you may already be familiar with. Sustainability has been the term many use to refer to environmental and social responsibility. The intention is to ensure the long term health and vitality of our Earth, communities, and economies. Often, people assume sustainability is mainly environmentally focused: protecting natural spaces, biodiversity, and ecosystem function and health. It should, however, also reach outside of “wild” spaces. It should include our productive spaces, such as our farms or industrial spaces.
We should consider if our pace and process of material extraction and land use can be carried out in the same way indefinitely. Sustainability should also include conversations about social equity, economic inequality, and supplier health and safety. The United Nations has defined 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. We can use these goals to make sure we are considering the breadth of intersectional issues a true sustainable economy would be addressing.
To learn more about Sustainability at Diamond Brand Gear, click here.
Circular Economy or Circularity
In a circular economy, a product is created with its end-of-life taken into account. Materials are recirculated indefinitely, through reuse, repair, recycling, and other similar strategies. Ideally, waste is eliminated completely and used as a resource for new products. This differs from a linear economy where products use virgin (or newly extracted) materials and resources. Those all end up in a landfill at the end of the product’s life.
Circularity also includes the importance of regenerating nature, rather than degrading it, in our resource creation and extraction. On a regenerative farm, for example, techniques actively improve the quality of the soil. This helps the health of the greater ecosystem rather than hurts it for efficiency’s sake.
Circularity is sometimes referred to as “cradle-to-cradle” design. Design processes try to mimic how nutrients and materials are constantly recycled and reused in nature. Similarly, “closed-loop” recycling indicates a process where recycling is indefinite, without degradation of the material. To learn more about circularity and our circular initiatives at Diamond Brand, click here (LINK TO CIRCULARITY BLOG POST).
Any material that can not be used or recycled at the end of its life is waste. This could be for a variety of reasons. It could be the nature of the material (think toxic chemicals, for example). Or because of a lack of available infrastructure to recycle the material. Much of our current recycling technology results in a slow degradation of material quality every time it is recycled. This results in the material eventually being unusable anymore, creating waste.
Circularity and many sustainability strategies work to decrease, eliminate, and/or completely reuse waste so that it can be recirculated indefinitely. We can reduce waste by redesigning our products to minimize production waste. And we can choose materials that can be more easily recycled. Also, it helps to find new and innovative ways to use waste material (see our Revival: Tent Rescue project). And finally, we can communicate with our customers about their options once they are ready to dispose of their products.
There are two types of waste businesses talk about often. The first is post-industrial waste. The process of manufacturing a product creates this waste. To start, it can include waste material, like scraps of fabric created when cutting out a pattern to sew. Secondly, dyeing or treating processes create waste water. And finally there may even be packaging used to ship materials and products from suppliers to the factory. We can address post-industrial waste by creating more material-efficient design. And we can choose more sustainable materials. Find circular strategies for our waste.
At Diamond Brand, we are planning to create zero post-industrial fabric waste from our branded production by 2023. You can learn more about this goal here.
The second significant source of waste in our economy is post-consumer waste. This is the waste we create at home by using packaging or wearing out a product. At first glance, it may feel like consumers are responsible for this waste. However, company’s designs and chosen materials on the front-end have a huge impact on the amount of post-consumer waste created. For example, companies package products in huge amounts of unnecessary plastic. This puts the responsibility on the consumer to deal with it. So the lack of good waste management infrastructure means that most of this waste ends up in the landfill. Ultimately, companies should own the responsibility for the management of any waste created throughout the lifecycle of their products.
First, at home, you can reuse packaging, mend clothing or repair broken items. Next, you can compost natural materials like food scraps, paper products, or natural fibers like cotton and wool. Then, buying in bulk (especially in reusable containers) is another great way to reduce your post-consumer waste. But remember, the true responsibility for this waste should be on the companies that created it in the first place. Thus, let your favorite producers know that their management of post-consumer waste is important to you!
Take-back programs, like our Revival: Tent Rescue program, are one way businesses can take responsibility for the post-consumer waste they create.
A renewable material is one that will naturally replenish itself within a human time-scale. Common renewable materials include agricultural and wild-harvested products. This includes things like vegetables, meat, fish, leather, and fiber, and forest products like wood, paper, and cardboard. Some energy sources are also renewable, like wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal. While resources like oil, natural gas, and mined minerals are natural, they replenish at an extremely slow pace. And our usage far outpaces that rate of replenishment.
This means we will eventually run out unless we treat these resources as finite. By choosing products made with renewable materials and using renewable energy to power your house, you are not contributing to an over-extraction of Earth’s limited resources. Encourage the business you buy from to do the same!
At Diamond Brand, we limit our non-renewable resource use. One way is by offering renewable fabric options like 100% cotton and by using recycled non-renewable resources whenever possible. To learn more about our sustainable fabric options, check out our blog post here (link to sustainable fabric post).
The total amount of greenhouse gases created by an individual, a company, or in the production of a product is a carbon footprint. Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas. It is the one most are familiar with. But others, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, can have an even greater environmental impact. So to understand your carbon footprint, you can use a calculator, like this one, to calculate your average emissions. These come from commuting, heating your home, or buying new products. Companies can analyze their supply chain and the emissions created in each step of a production process to understand their total carbon footprint or the footprint of a specific item.
Check out this article from Columbia University that includes 35 ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint.
Triple Bottom Line
Business writer John Elkington coined the phrase “Triple Bottom Line” in 1994. In traditional business accounting, the “bottom line” refers to either the profit or the loss at the bottom of a statement of revenue and expenses. The TBL framework adds two additional “bottom lines” to the traditional “profit” perspective. “People” and “planet” account for the full environmental and social costs of the business. Overall, the Triple Bottom Line framework encourages businesses to balance their financial growth with responsibility and care for their stakeholders and the planet. Do well by doing good.
At Diamond Brand Gear, we define our version of the Triple Bottom Line as a framework. It accounts for the wellbeing of our craftspeople, our communities, and the Earth. Also, we acknowledge that our craft must thrive well beyond the next 138 years. We must nuture these three forces with equal importance—a challenge we humbly accept.