Why 'Ethical' Doesn't Always Mean 'Sustainable'

Why 'Ethical' Doesn't Always Mean 'Sustainable'

Fashion Revolution Week has been wonderfully inspiring so far! We love that so many brands are turning their labels inside out and showing us #whomadeyourclothes. Baptist World Aid even released their latest fashion report, showing that many big companies like Adidas and Kmart are making leaps and bounds into the world of transparent and ethical manufacturing.


While we can’t wait for similar reports to be written about everything we purchase (i.e. not only fashion but furniture and homewares as well!), we still find it so inspiring that ethical manufacturing and fair wages is closer to becoming a standard for all.

What we do find unusual, though, is that many companies who claim to be ethical aren’t always sustainable, and we’re sure you’ve noticed this too. To understand why this is the case, it’s crucial to first understand what sustainable manufacturing means.

What does sustainable mean?

The word ‘sustainable’ is sometimes used by brands as a general label to indicate balanced ethical, environmental, and economic practices. However, the ethical business community is now finding that ‘sustainable’ is more frequently used interchangeably with ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘eco-friendly’.

In fashion and homewares, sustainable practice can be determined by 4 factors:

1. Materials

Sustainable products are generally made with raw materials, such as organic cotton, linen, and hemp, that are sourced from sustainably managed farms and factories. Sustainable materials are also generally bought locally, recycled, or up-cycled. Our rug manufacturers, Sugarcane Trading Co, are an excellent example of a business that sources sustainable materials. All our Sugarcane Trading Co rugs are made from offcuts and textile waste from garment manufacturers in India. How innovative is that?!

2. Production

The way manufacturers make their products is at the heart of sustainable practice. Sustainable production means actively reducing energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste. It means using organic, low, or no pesticide, and not causing any harm to animals.

3. Packaging

In the age of online shopping, the way businesses package and send their products also plays a large role in sustainability. Many online stores now use recycled, biodegradable, or compostable packing, which reduces the amount of plastic and foam going into landfill and, as a result, into our oceans.

4. Authenticity

So many people and businesses forget this last one! Being truly sustainable and earth-friendly means being honest about your practices and not over-selling your impact. The sad fact is that with the rise of sustainability, greenwashing is more alive than ever. So, being authentic about how sustainable a business really is so not to confuse customers is really important.


At the end of the day, sustainable practice is about balancing resources. It’s about ensuring that future generations can also have what we have now, and doing your best on all fronts.

So, why isn’t environmental impact always measured as part of ethical trade?

Many ethical stores (like Aquamarine Home) work very hard to ensure a level of sustainability is upheld. Aquamarine Home follows the 10 Principles of Fair Trade when carefully selecting the products we represent, including number ten: respect for the environment.

However, the sad reality is that sometimes ethical businesses get so caught up on the other nine principles that number ten is often overlooked. Perhaps this is because there is so much to fix in supply chains before businesses can even consider their environmental impact. It’s really hard to know the true cause. What is important to remember, is that many businesses do care about the environment. Sustainability certainly isn’t going out of style any time soon as long as we keep valuing it!


So, when you give anything a place in your life or home, whether it’s a new pair of jeans or a new rug, it’s important to check that what you’re buying has both positive repercussions for the people who made it and for the earth.

We need to remind businesses that we are all connected. When parts of a production chain are unsustainable, they can also have damaging effects ethically. So, it’s crucial, moving forward, that all businesses that call themselves ‘ethical’ honour all the principles of fair trade, even the tenth one.

While ethical and sustainable may have vastly different meanings, when married together in business operations, together these practices can not only change manufacturing for good, they can truly change the world! 

Aquamarine Home


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How do you personally ensure that what you're buying has a positive impact on both people and the environment? Leave a comment and let us know!

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