By Rosie Noake
It’s become trendy to shop mindfully, whether sustainable vs ethical purchases. Whether picking up a beautiful dress made by an ethical, independent brand with social impact at the heart of their ethos, or wearing the best sustainable jewelry brands created from recycled silver and handmade locally with a reduced carbon footprint, it feels nice to tell friends that our enviable new purchase isn’t from a high-street store.
But a problem arises when these stories become confused and words like sustainable and ethical become interchangeable. Although both things are positive steps for a brand to be taking, they don’t mean the same thing. Let's dive into the differences between sustainable vs ethical shopping.
- These are the best sustainable fashion brands to have on your radar
Sustainable vs ethical: What are the differences?
Shopping sustainably: what does it mean?
When it comes to sustainable vs ethical practices, sustainability primarily concerns the environment. So, if you’re worried about issues like plastic use, carbon footprint and landfill, you’ll be looking to spend your money with brands that focus on reducing their impact on the earth as much as possible.
There are plenty of ways a brand might do this. If you’re buying online, check the “about us” section of their website, or if they don’t have any clear guidelines available about their commitment to sustainability, send them an email to ask. When shopping for fashion, a good indicator that a brand is sustainable is the effort taken to make sure their clothes last a long time and don’t end up in a landfill.
For example, they might offer free repairs or make their clothes or accessories from recycled materials that may have otherwise become waste. In the fashion industry, there’s also issues around water wastage (a huge amount is used to make denim, FYI!), the use of pesticides in growing cotton, and packaging, which are important for brands to address, too.
You might be thinking, why wouldn’t every business make the effort to become sustainable? Although we agree that every business does have a responsibility not to leave the planet worse than they found it, it’s not always that easy.
Sustainable products generally take longer and cost more to make, with a complex manufacturing process. All of these factors push up the recommended retail price and of course, the more expensive something is, the smaller the consumer pool becomes. If a business has a big enough gulf between the amount of money it costs to make something and the price it’s being sold at, there’s room to give customers introductory discounts and to have seasonal sales. These things attract more customers and make business more successful.
But if a business is already spending a lot on its production costs in order to be sustainable, it’s likely that its profit margins will be small and it will be harder for it to make enough money to continue operating. This is why it’s so important to support sustainable businesses.
Shopping ethically: what does it mean?
On the ethical side of the sustainable vs ethical debate, practicing business ethically means ensuring that the people who make and sell a company’s products are treated fairly. This could mean ensuring that their working conditions are comfortable, that they have reasonable working hours and are paid a fair wage. It could also mean, especially in the beauty industry, that the business is against animal testing and cruelty.
Businesses or brands that are truly passionate about being ethical might seek out or partner with a charity that works with underprivileged communities and change their production process to promote employment among these communities, upskilling them and offering support as well as the opportunity to gain financial independence.
- Is Fenty Beauty vegan and cruelty free?
Sustainable vs ethical: which one is better?
Although it’s not unusual for businesses who are passionate about being ethical to also take the environment into consideration, it’s not a given. If the environmental impact of your purchases is what you’re most concerned about, you’ll need to double-check that with the brand.
Equally, just because a brand has a small carbon footprint, this doesn’t mean it supports any social impact schemes or investigates the working conditions for those who make its products.
Ideally, it would be best for both the planet and its people to shop with brands who don't focus on sustainable vs ethical but rather on sustainable and ethical, keep both practices at the forefront of their business models.
When does House of Gucci come out? Everything you need to know about the new film with Lady Gaga
Gaga for Gaga? Get in line! If you're wondering "when does House of Gucci come out?" this is the guide for you
By Danielle Valente •
August 2021 horoscope: what's in store for your zodiac sign this month?
Your August 2021 horoscope is here—and it's a crucial moment in our 2021 storybook...
By Athena Antares •
Best sustainable jewelry brands: eco-conscious pieces to shop now
The best sustainable jewelry brands offering ethical bling, from using recycled metals to eco-friendly packaging
By Rosie Noake •
Pangaia: we've found the coolest sustainable fashion brand ever
Meet Pangaia, the sustainable brand taking over fashion with colorful and easy-to-wear pieces
By Manuela Rio Tinto •
These are the best sustainable fashion brands to have on your radar
Our edit of the best sustainable fashion brands will suit all wardrobes and budgets
By Manuela Rio Tinto •
H&M's sustainable swimwear is super stylish and affordable too
Sun, sand, and sustainability
By Naomi Jamieson •
Pandora sustainable diamond collection: it's here and we're in love
The Pandora sustainable diamond collection has just launched. Here's why it's so good and here's what we're buying.
By Naomi Jamieson •
Sustainable living: 10 small (but effective) steps to take to be more green
Small steps you can take towards more sustainable living
By Lauren Bravo •
The best sustainable jeans: the eco-friendly wardrobe upgrade
Earth Day The best sustainable jeans to snap up now for an eco-friendly denim upgrade
By Charlie Bell •
The best upcycle ideas to try at home, from fashion to home decor
Earth Day These 19 creative upcycle ideas add value to everyday unwanted items in your home
By My Imperfect Life •