Sustainability is intuitively understood, but, in reality, it has no clear definition.
Because of this disconnect, some companies take advantage of consumers’ lack of awareness of what sustainability truly means and ‘greenwash’ their commitment to sustainable activity. Nowhere is this more the case than in the legal trade of endangered species, with sustainable use often linked to conservation.
While influencers from J-Lo to Rihanna are happy to be dressed from head-to-toe in snake skin, a 2016 assessment of python breeding farms, supplying the international high-end leather industry, recommended python skin exports from countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia should be treated with caution. Kering Group (whose brands include Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen) was part of the collaboration behind the report, which concluded uncertainties in the export figures from several source countries were noteworthy and in need of further investigation. It is not clear what actions have been taken to overcome the issues highlighted since the 2016 report was published.
But pythons are only one species. Since the 1970s, 60% of all land animals have disappeared. At least a million species are facing extinction, and trade has been confirmed as the second biggest threat to species survival.
What, then, is the reality? Simply put, when people shop, they may as well be wearing blindfolds, because the truth about what they are buying and where it originates from is often hidden through creative communication techniques including generalisation, misdirection, distortion and deletion.
The language of sustainability is eco, green, ethical, circular or slow, but what is the current definition of sustainability?