13 Environmental Terms You Need To Know

Stepping foot into the sustainability and ethical manufacturing realm, you'll find a barrage of terms that will either inform or overwhelm you. Looking at toitū's website, it's clear there's no exception here. But don't worry, we're here to help! Here's a little overview of some of the most commonly used sustainable terms thrown around on the internet, so that next time they pop up in your feed or conversation, you can actually understand what they mean.


If something is biodegradable, it's able to decay naturally without any harm to the environment. Australia has no mandatory standard for biodegradability, however it has strict regulations on the time period something needs to decay within. Not all materials can decay in any environment; some materials, like Bioplastic, will only break down in certain conditions. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does emphasize the importance of appropriately disposing of things at the end of their life. 


Compostable and biodegradable are similar processes in that they both involve something decaying naturally over time. Compostable products, however, have an added advantage in that they don't release toxins in the process of decaying, actually break down quicker than something that's biodegradable and improve the quality of soil too. 


What we hope will one day be the norm, but at the moment is actually achieved by very few brands, circular fashion refers to a process of designing out waste and utilising raw materials for as long as possible. The benefits of this are a significant reduction of waste and pollution. The legends at Common Objective illustrated a great explanation of how it looks in practice. 


Circular Fashion


Many factories encourage companies to produce more inventory than they can actually sell, resulting in that inventory living a life on warehouse shelves or in landfill. Thus, dead stock is essentially the name for the material/products that are altered from their raw form but not sold or used. Using dead stock saves on energy that would have otherwise been expended in the production of raw materials, saves companies money AND stops products going to landfill. 


Used as a prefix for many sustainability terms, eco refers to the environment or habitat. So if something's eco-friendly, it's good for the environment! If something or someone is eco-conscious, they're aware of the environment. Being eco-conscious doesn't mean you have to be a perfect eco warrior, it just means you're mindful of how your actions affect the environment and conscious of the effect your choices have on the Earth. 


Ethical fashion is used as an overarching term to refer to the moral standards kept in the 'behind the scenes' part of making a product. There is some ambiguity on the internet regarding what this really means - is it standards for workers or farms or what? According to Forbes Magazine, the only thing it really means is that it's 'not as bad as mainstream fashion'. 

Even if we can't tightly define it, it's really important in ensuring that all parts of making something are done in a fair manner. Purchasing items that have ethical certifications such as Fairtrade, Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) are good ways of making sure that the greenwashing techniques of some brands are transparent for you to make your own opinions on. Treat others as you'd like to be treated, right? 


It's a colour, but it's also a buzzword for eco-friendly actions. Green simply means being less harmful to the environment or supporting the environment. Green thumbs ftw. 


I was recently on an expedition where this became a hot topic of debate, the idea of what's nature and therefore natural in a world where everything feels like it's been touched by humankind. According to Oxford Dictionary though, that which is not made or caused by humankind is natural. 


Organic apparel is made using natural fibers that are derived from organic farming practices. These practices avoid the use of artificial chemicals and pesticides, and apply practices like crop rotation to increase biodiversity and rain water usage to reduce water usage.

Organic clothing has no plastic micro-fibres hidden within it either, meaning there's no chance of those plastics washing out and into water sources. Purchasing products with recognized certifications such as GOTS, OSC (Organic Standard Certification) and OEKO-TEX (a global certification that covers organic and non-organic materials) can help you identify what's truly organic and not. 


Team Timbuktu tops are all made from 100% GOTS Certified Cotton


Reduce, reuse, recycle - the last part of the process, but the one which is there to stop as much as possible going to landfill or waste. Recycled fashion means different things to different brands, but essentially it either means manufacturer or consumer waste being repurposed to give it a new life. You can look for the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) label to support the recycled claims of brands. 


The absolute opposite of sustainable; something which is single-use is designed to be used once then destroyed or disposed of. Another less common definition I like to use is WASTEFUL.


For someone dedicated to preserving the Earth, this is the holy grail. If something's sustainable, it's able to be maintained indefinitely at that same rate or level without becoming completely depleted. Take no more than you need and give no more than you can take - that's the aim. 


In upcycled products, discarded materials are reinvented and utilised to make something which is far better than the waste that was originally left. Rather than breaking a product down into its raw materials, as in recycled products, upcycling find creative ways to repurpose the materials as they are originally found or bought.  


Words by Jessie McRae

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