Eco, organic, sustainable, fair? What do all these actually mean?

SANVT Journal

No “green-washing” and no trend should play with your trust. But could you spontaneously explain the differences between sustainableorganicfair and the multitude of other “green” words? These terms all have their own definitions and yet they can also be a bit abstract – and therefore often used. This article will help you to better understand their differences and ultimately to choose the most suitable brand and product in the future.  

There are many articles that explain these words and distinguish them from each other. But we explain our view and also what sustainability means to the SANVT brand.

Sustainability / Sustainable

For humans and nature (or humans in nature) to exist in the long term, rules and norms for living together must be in place – especially when thinking of future generations. Sustainability in the true sense of the word exists when a certain (beneficial) effect is achieved over a long period of time. In the context of the fashion industry, a ‘sustainable’ effect could mean longer lasting garments that don’t have to be thrown away and replaced.

In connection with the environment this means that no more resources may be consumed than there are available or can be regrown. This point does not only refer to production. A sustainable product in its entire conception should not have any irredeemably negative effects on its environment. 

For SANVT this means: 

Our products are long lasting. The quality of the materials ensures a long durability and our classic designs mean that new shirt doesn’t have to hang in the wardrobe every season / trend.


We are climate neutral

We dye all materials without harmful chemicals or heavy metals

We recycle 99.9% of all waste water

Packaging and product materials are made of biodegradable materials


You can read more about our sustainability here

The SANVT labels in the factory in Portugal: We design sustainable clothing instead of big logos.

ecological // organic

Whenever ‘ecological’ is used in fashion advertising, it usually means a mix of socially-responsible and environmentally-conscious production. After all, a production company that pays attention to its employees should (hopefully) also have the environment and its limited natural resources in mind. The products themselves should also be of high quality, so that you can use them for years to come. Otherwise the “sustainable” effect is missed – because a positive effect wouldn’t be maintained for a long time.

‘Organic’ is a bit clearer and means no environmentally harmful chemicals should be used in production and/or cultivation. Taking the example of organic cotton, this means that no synthetic pesticides are used and no harmful chemicals are used in dyeing. 

fair // social // ethical

These terms refer to fair human interactions – and the interaction between producers and companies. The fact that the word “fair” is so often used in advertising, though, shows that this point is not self-evident. For example, sweatshops in countries like China are frighteningly normalised. The implementation of fair labor is about changing these working conditions, which are almost taken to be acceptable (see below “The Certificates”). 

The tailors: Mónica and Mila craft many of our SANVT products in our small family-run factory in Portugal.

For SANVT this means:


We work exclusively with independent family businesses that treat people with respect and minimize negative effects on nature and the environment.


We cooperate with local and global environmental protection projects.


You can read more about it here. 

The certificates (and the criticism):

Organic // Fairtrade // GOTS // “the green button” 

An organic product is mainly determined by the fact that its production must not be environmentally harmful – for example, through the use of pesticides. However, for the workers, the “organic” classification can sometimes mean that cotton is picked and sorted by hand – instead of far more efficient machinery. It is not clear whether this is socially the best solution – especially taking the circumstances of harvesting into account (e.g. heat, humidity, etc.). 

Fairtrade refers to the production conditions in developing countries. The aim here is to establish “fairness” between producers, profit-making companies and consumers. The problem, however, is that the defined standards are not always as transparent as they seem. 

The GOTS certificate combines these two points, since at least 70 percent of the product must come from controlled organic cultivation and the working conditions must meet minimum criteria. Here, however, there is also the difficulty that this “minimum standard” is still somewhat disconnected from humanitarian conditions, despite being advertised with a socially and environmentally-conscious production. 

The green button is a German certificate (originally called “der grüne Punkt”). Similar to the GOTS seal, it defines minimum standards as well as prohibitions (child/forced labor, use of pesticides). The big criticism is that only the end of the production is checked (i.e. the last steps to manufacture the final product, such as sewing or dyeing). The conditions for the production of the materials aren’t considered. These certificates make good steps towards making socially and environmentally conscious production tangible for you as a consumer. Nevertheless, you should take a look at what this seal contains and whether it fulfils your requirements.

Find out exactly what you want – it should be clear:

So, definitions stand for themselves. You have to find out what you want and look beyond the abstract. Do you want a climate-neutral production? Recycled materials? Plastic-free packaging? Then when you find a brand you like, just ask for it. Although we think: If someone is proud of what the company does or doesn’t do for the environment, then that someone should make it transparent to you. 

For more on SANVT’s sustainability and transparency, take a look at our sustainability page. If you are looking for more inspiration on how to become more eco-friendly click here.