There's been an increasing buzz around terms like sustainable, eco-friendly, natural, and environmentally friendly in the past years. It comes at a time when we all become more conscious of what we buy. With the rise of consciously driven purchasers willing to pay more for quality-made items that are better for the environment, businesses are taking notice. However, a green monster lurks between the grand promises of sustainability. Greenwashing tricks us into believing change is happening when in reality, it's not.
So what really is greenwashing? To put it simply, it's a tactic that companies use to appear more sustainable than they actually are. This could mean making false claims about green production practices or purposely being vague with facts.
How big is the problem?
The International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) of almost 500 websites promoting products and services across various sectors found that 40% of green claims could be misleading consumers. In 2021 Synthetics Anonymous found that 59% of green claims made by fashion brands are misleading or unsubstantiated.
Why does this matter?
Whilst sustainability becomes increasingly trendy, consumers base their purchasing decisions on brand's eco-credentials. People are clearly putting their money where their values lie. Big brands want to jump on the bandwagon, bank on the competitive edge and attract consumers keen on shopping consciously. Rather than working out the nitty-gritty of truly integrating sustainability into their supply chain, some companies use marketing tactics to paint a greener picture instead. Everyone likes to believe that their hard-earned money is going towards something good, be it quality materials and craftsmanship or supporting rural communities. Unfortunately, brands that greenwash use this narrative to convey the same sentiments without making real change.
How do fashion brands get away with it?
The most significant loophole in sustainability is that it does not have a clear, quantifiable definition. As it stands, terms like "ethical" or "eco-friendly" have no legal meaning, so companies cannot be held accountable for their actions by the law. As more environmental non-profits and other organizations begin to dig deeper, we uncover staggering data. The research concluded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that textile manufacturing consumes 98 million tons of nonrenewable resources, from oil that makes synthetic fibres to fertilizers to grow cotton and 93 billion cubic meters of water annually. In 2016 the estimated greenhouse gas emissions of the textile industry were 1,2 billion tons. That's more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Another reason why brands get away with greenwashing is the lack of mainstream public knowledge of how really the products are produced. Brands can take advantage of the lack of regulation and public knowledge to continue spewing false information.
Legislative measures are needed to address the crises the world is facing simultaneously, like the climate emergency, the plastic pollution crisis and the rapid loss of wildlife and biodiversity. Greenwashing is a pervasive and dangerous form of hypocrisy which collectively blinds us to the scale of the challenge we face.
How to avoid greenwashing?
- Don't let marketing fool you; always look for evidence. - Always check for clear information about companies sustainability agenda. Brands who genuinely prioritize sustainability will make a point to share it on their website.
- When in doubt, look for facts and figures. - Transparency is always the first step toward accountability.
- Look for certifications. - If a brand claims their products are "100% organic" or "cruelty-free," check whether it's been certified. Certifications all serve the same purpose: to evaluate a brand's sustainable practices.
- Look beyond the overhyped and irrelevant.
- Focus on brands with a holistic approach to sustainability. - Support brands that integrate sustainability into everything they do - not just one collection or handful of pieces. Look at how they approach product design, manufacturing, shipping, and packaging.
In-between all, there are companies putting real effort into truly being sustainable. The process of demystifying greenwashing makes you a more conscious consumer. Learning more about the clothes we wear is a major part of anyone's sustainability journey. It will help you discover better brands whose values truly match yours.
Check out greenwash.com/wash-by-brand/ to learn more about mainstream brands and their false sustainability claims.