Defining Sustainability

By Alex Berryman

"Becoming more mindful about clothing means looking at every fiber, at every seed, and every dye and seeing how to make it better. We don’t want sustainability to be our edge, we want it to be universal.

-- Eileen Fisher, fashion designer

What is "sustainability"? Broadly defined, it is the equilibrium between humanity and the ecosystem so that existence continues for both. "Sustainable development" refers to the process of meeting people's needs without depleting resources that future generations will require in order to thrive. In other words, we want to keep growing as a society and producing great products but, we need to commit to doing so in a way that will ensure the continued existence of people and the planet.

In this blog series, (this is the first in a two-blog series) we will:

  1. Explore how your brand can embrace sustainable practices and make them part of your identity,

  2. Use Purnaa as a case study, showing how we as a manufacturer work to contribute to the overarching global Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainability should not be just a buzzword but can instead be a true business ethos. Practically, what does sustainability mean when each business can be sustainable in different ways? Is one way better? Or more sustainable?

Here, we will explore the different facets of sustainability and how your brand can contribute to the global goal of sustainability.

What does sustainability mean for a business?

Although most commonly used in regards to environmental issues, sustainability in business can address a broad range of issues and is comprised of the triple bottom line: planet, people, and profit. Each of these three pillars is needed to create a sustainable business model. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) provide a blueprint for sustainability, exploring 17 key issues within these three main pillars. Businesses should consider how they can contribute to each of these goals.

But with 17 issues to consider, how do you determine where to focus? As each person has both a different perspective and sphere of influence, perhaps the correct question to ask is not “what aspect of sustainability is the most important” but instead “What is important to me?" and "How can I make a difference and contribute meaningfully in that area?”. Here is how to get started!

Step 1: Define your values

Purnaa's friend, Selina Ho from Recloseted says, “Sustainability means figuring out what your values are and moving the needle in the right direction… There are a lot of different routes you can go but define your values first.”

By considering your values, you remember your "why". Why did you start your business, or join the company you are now in? What vision or value are you bringing to the industry? What is important to your customer when they buy your product?

Your values, or your "why" is the essence of your business, the driving force behind each business decision. Your sustainability effort should be no different. By referring to the SDGs, you can identify which core issues you want to impact through your business, and begin to create a vision for change.

If your company is just beginning to prioritize sustainability, it may initially seem that your values do not align with sustainability. However, as Selina identifies, “almost all values of a business lead back to sustainability - take authenticity, for example. If authenticity is a core value of your business, then so will be transparency”, if your customers expect authenticity from you, supply chain transparency will help meet that core value and will resonate with your customer base.