Read time: 14 minutes (but skim to words you need)
Author: Bridget Thorpe
Bookmark this one for quick reference, and shop your favorite online stores with fresh eyes 👀
I originally created the Game Changer Glossary to help me shop beyond the sustainability buzzwords. There's a lot out there, and it gets confusing! The content is rooted in my experience advising Fortune 500s on their public sustainability communications, and it includes gold-standard resources I gained from an amazing community of environmental experts.
| B |
You have likely seen this label a lot more lately! B Corporations are held accountable for balancing purpose and profit. Certified organizations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. You can learn more at BCorporation.net.
Biodegradable means something can degrade from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae. Our packaging providers at EcoEnclose remind us that all compostable items are considered biodegradable, but not all biodegradable items are compostable. The term biodegradable makes no claims as to the amount of time needed for degradation, or the attributes of the end product. Some things can take years to biodegrade, and others can biodegrade but leave behind high levels of toxins, contaminants and chemicals. And not all biodegradable items can degrade in a compost environment. Learn more at EcoEnclose.com.
An environmental fabric certification. BLUESIGN traces each textile’s path along the manufacturing process, making improvements at every stage from factory floor to finished product. BLUESIGN works to change the environmental impact of textiles for good. You can learn more at Bluesign.com. We currently don't use BLUESIGN textiles at SOL VAE, but it is a fantastic certification we love seeing.
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A term coined by British fashion icon Susie Faux in the 1970s. It refers to a minimal collection of practical and versatile pieces of clothing put together to create an entire wardrobe. Think quality over quantity, or less is more.
Put simply, it's the total amount of greenhouse gases generated by our actions. Our partners at Native have a great calculator where you can calculate (and even offset) your own carbon footprint. Check it out at Native.eco.
Sometimes confused with "net zero emissions". In a nutshell, it refers to an organization balancing out the emissions they create. The IPCC an industry gold-standard resource for clarity here. They consider net zero to be achieved when anthropogenic (or human-caused) emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period. When multiple greenhouse gases (beyond carbon) are involved, the metrics used to compare different gases becomes increasingly important. Learn more at IPCC.ch.
A carbon offset (also referred to as a Verified Emissions Reduction—VER) ensures that one metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2), or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases such as methane, is either removed from the atmosphere or prevented from entering it. Although it is best for emissions to not be generated in the first place, credible carbon offsets allow organization's to address emissions they currently cannot avoid. Credible carbon offsets are certified by leading third-party standard such as the Gold Standard, VERRA, American Carbon Registry, Climate Action Reserve, or the UN Clean Development Mechanism. SOL VAE currently invests in Climate Action-Reserve and VERRA certified projects.
Carbon positive or carbon negative? It's confusing that both are being used! Fundamentally, these terms are used to communicate activity beyond carbon neutrality. So, they're doing more than balancing the emissions they create—they're working to remove additional carbon, as well.
This term usually goes hand-in-hand with the term "circular economy". The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is our gold-standard resource for all things circularity. They define a circular economy to be based on three principles: design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; regenerate natural systems. These days, we are primarily living in a throwaway economy where resources are taken, to make things, that inevitably get thrown away (take-make-waste). Circularity aims to eliminate waste, circulate resources, and regenerate nature. Learn more at EllenMacArthurFoundation.org.
Compostable refers to items with microbes that can break down at a rate consistent with other compostable materials with the right level of heat, water and oxygen. Our packaging providers at EcoEnclose remind us an important aspect of being considered compostable is that an item must break down over a reasonable period of time (a week to several months). When composted, items should leave behind no discernible residue or toxins, and result in a nutritive soil amendment. Our packaging is 100% compostable, thanks to EcoEnclose—a woman-owned business in Colorado, USA. Learn more at EcoEnclose.com.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Sometimes called "CSR". A business model where organizations are conscious of the kind of impact they are having, including economic, social, and environmental criteria.
Cruelty-free refers to products (usually cosmetics) that have not been tested on animals. It's closely linked to veganism—but just because a product is cruetly free does not mean it is also vegan. There is currently no US or Canadian regulation or approved label for the term "cruelty-free". The Leaping Bunny program is one standard that requires no new animal testing be used in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories, or ingredient suppliers. Learn more at LeapingBunny.org.
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Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of standards for a company that investors (and other stakeholders) use to analyze an organization. Environmental refers to environmental stewardship. Social criteria consider relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and communities. Governance focuses on a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights. The term ESG first came about in 2001, when the index provider FTSE began integrating environmental and sustainability factors into its indices.
Many consider social impact to be the focus of ethical fashion. Ethical fashion goes beyond laws and regulations and addresses topics such as living wages, working conditions, and animal welfare.
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Fair trade is primarily focused on labor rights and protecting the environment. It's used to describe a brand or a product that has been third-party verified to meet specific standards. Fairtrade (one word) refers to the organization/standard Fairtrade International. Another leading standard is Fair Trade Certified.
Fast fashion refers to cheap, trendy clothes that mirror designer styles and are produced for mass box stores at extreme speed. Shoppers typically discard these items after only a few wears—either because the trend has passed or the quality is poor. Historically, brands and designers have had annual or semi-annual collection seasons. A fast fashion model can have 52 collections in just one year, or a new collection every week. This model comes with environmental and social impact, and many household fast fashion brands are beginning to evolve. Learn more at FashionRevolution.org.
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Stands for Greenhouse Gas Protocol. The GHG Protocol establishes global frameworks to measure and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It's building on a 20-year partnership between the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). You'll see this term when we discuss our carbon footprint.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Sometimes called "GHGs". We look to the IPCC for a credible definition. They describe greenhouse gases as the gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic (human caused), that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of terrestrial radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere itself and by clouds. It's a mouthful, we know! But these collective properties are what cause the greenhouse effect. Water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3) are the primary GHGs in the Earth’s atmosphere. There are also a number GHGs that are entirely human-made. Learn more at IPCC.ch.
Is when an organization claims and markets that it operates with environmental stewardship; yet, in reality, it doesn't or has shallow or non-credible environmental practices. It's a real issue these days. You are taking an incredible step to see through greenwashing by using this dictionary and understanding what credible sustainability terminology looks like.
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Technology that promotes individual wellness, minimizes unforeseen consequences, and ultimately builds our collective capacity to address the most urgent challenges facing humanity. Learn more HumaneTech.com.
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Made in America
There are strict rules to claim Made in America. According to the United States Federal Trade Commission, a product can only be called Made in USA if the product is "all or virtually all" made in the U.S. At SOL VAE, our products are "Made in the USA of Imported Textiles", as we currently source our fabric from Italy.
Plastic particles smaller than 5mm. When you wash synthetic textiles (think stretchy fabrics), tiny microfibers shed and release primary microplastics into the water. In 2011, scientists in California discovered these microplastics were entering our oceans and contaminating our marine environments and food chains. By using a microfiber filter (and/or gently hand-washing), you can reduce microfiber pollution as textile and wastewater industries work towards stronger systemic change.
A practice and/or lifestyle that involves stripping away the unnecessary and leaving only the things that provide you with true value and joy. Marie Kondo, anyone?
| N |
Some, times confused with "carbon neutral". In a nutshell, it refers to an organization reducing the emissions it creates down to zero. The IPCC is, yet again, our favorite source for clarity here. They consider net zero to be achieved when anthropogenic (or human-caused) emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period. When multiple greenhouse gases are involved, the metrics used to compare different gases becomes increasingly important. Learn more at IPCC.ch.
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A leading, credible fabric certification that tests for substance safety. It consists of 18 independent institutes in Europe and Japan that continuously develop test methods and limit values for the textile and leather industry. STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® is one of the world's best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances. It stands for customer confidence and high product safety. SOL VAE is proud to use textiles and products that are OEKO-TEX certified. You can learn more at Oeko-Tex.com.
A fashion term inspired from the food world. Organic refers to raw materials that are not genetically modified, have been grown without any chemical pesticides and insecticides, and/or are rooted in farming practices that avoid harmful chemicals and prioritize sustainability. The term comes up frequently with cotton products. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) are leading organizations that can point you to certified organic garments. Keep an eye out for greenwashing when you see this term, as it's unfortunately thrown-around pretty loosely.
| R |
The process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. Our packaging is 100% curbside recyclable, meaning it can be converted for future uses.
Defined as "to be formed again". At SOL VAE, we use regenerated nylon that has been formed again from nylon waste—including fishing nets from the ocean and aquaculture, fabric scraps from mills, and carpets destined for landfill.
Renewable energy (sometimes called clean energy) comes from natural sources or processes that continually replenish. Wind and solar energy are the two most common examples.
| S |
A social certification standard, usually seen in the manufacturing world. The SA8000 Standard is based on internationally recognized standards of decent work, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ILO conventions, and national laws. SA8000 applies a management-systems approach and emphasizes continual improvement—not checklist-style auditing. It considers discrimination, child labor, health & saftey, and much more. Our textile partners are SA8000 certified. Learn more at sa-intl.org.
Scope 1 Emissions
All direct emissions that result from a company’s operations. Think of emissions created from a company's site from things like fuel combustion, company-owned vehicles, or equipment. We talk about the emissions scopes when we detail our carbon footprint.
Scope 2 Emissions
All indirect GHG emissions that result from purchased and consumed electricity, heat, steam or cooling. For example, when someone at an organization turns the lights on at the office, that energy is coming from the electric grid. Those grid emissions are what experts call Scope 2.
Scope 3 Emissions
All other indirect emissions from value chain activities. These emissions occur as a result of a company’s operations, but are not owned or controlled by the organization. Scope 3 includes supplier emissions, employee commutes, business travel, landfill waste disposal, and more. They are typically the hardest category of emissions for company's to measure.
The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. Learn more at sustainabledevelopment.un.org/.
Items that had a previous owner who donated or resold them. It is one of the most sustainable fashion options, as you’re reducing impact by not buying “new” and giving a second life to items that would have likely been landfilled. We love shopping ThredUp.com and other second-hand sites for wardrobe staples.
A term first introduced by Kate Fletcher of the Center for Sustainable Fashion in London. It takes inspiration from the slow food movement and, in short, is the opposite of fast fashion. Slow fashion embraces quality, mindful sourcing, and fair treatment of all stakeholders along the way. SOL VAE is built on a slow fashion model where quality, over quantity, is prioritized. Learn more at FashionRevolution.org.
When an organization or designer produces smaller quantities of a style or item—typically 500 or less at a time.
Beautifully and succinctly described by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: “sustainability is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Learn more at UNGlobalCompact.org.
Sustainable Apparel Coalition
A non-profit alliance for the fashion industry, also called the "SAC". It’s made up of over 250 leading apparel, footwear and textile brands, retailers, suppliers, service providers, trade associations, non-profits, NGOs, and academic institutions working to reduce environmental impact and promote social justice throughout the global value chain. Learn more at apparelcoalition.org.
| T |
Being able to trace each component of a product through the supply chain. A traceable product is one in which you can discover the origin and/or processes of each component it took to create the finished product.
When an organization is open and honest about information related its practices, operations, and/or products.
| U |
A term popularized from William Donough's book Cradle to Cradle. It entails turning waste into another material or product, typically with better usability and via less energy.
| V |
Products that have been made using zero animal products or by-products. In the fashion world, it comes up with materials such as leather, wool, silk, cashmere, and more because all of these fibers come from animals.
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AKA, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). It's a credible, global, CEO-led organization of over 200 leading businesses working together to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world. We look to the WBCSD's guidance for best practices and strategic innovation. Learn more at wbcsd.org.
WRI is a very cool global research organization that works with governments, businesses, multilateral institutions and civil society groups to develop practical solutions that improve people’s lives and protect nature. They organize around seven global challenges: Food, Forests, Water, Energy, Climate, the Ocean and Cities. SOL VAE's environmental practice aims to align with leading WRI standards. Learn more at wri.org.
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Refers to the climate action goal of limiting global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. We trust the IPCC with the latest science on this topic. Learn more at IPCC.ch.