What is Greenwashing?
Whether you are deeply invested in the controversies of sustainable fashion or not, you may be familiar with the booming term, “greenwashing”. Greenwashing can be defined as the act of falsely marketing a product or company to have deceiving environmental responsibility. This can be exhibited in the form of fake association with eco-friendly initiatives, preaching a sustainable supply chain, or having faux “green” dedications. Many popular clothing brands are slowly being labeled as greenwashers for their efforts to join the “trend” of sustainable and ethical fashion, rather than having a true dedication to combatting fast fashion and unethical production.
Why is Greenwashing Detrimental?
Many renowned brands are guilty of this false advertising and are more committed to the economic business models than to the truth behind why truly “green” brands are taking proper steps to sustainability. Rather than make the efforts that many of these companies are falsely claiming, the customer deception is causing even more harm to the fashion industry by convincing customers to purchase an item that is wrongfully marketed as beneficial to the planet. In reality, many of these “green” items are just as bad as their fast fashion counterparts. This causes many issues in the clothing industry, as customers are being exposed to more and more insincere marketing ploys and are unable to recognize the real from the faux. Additionally, the more large conglomerate brands that are participating in these tactics, the more small-businesses and truly sustainable brands are suffering from the loss of business from the money-hungry competitors.
How can you spot Greenwashing?
The hardest part of combatting “greenwashing” in your shopping habits can be knowing what companies are truly transparent and honest about their initiatives and supply chains, and which are wrongly claiming positive dedication. Many brands are able to use keywords such as “eco-friendly”, “ethical”, or “conscious” for their products, but give no details of how their items meet those claims. One large issue is that a well-known brand might use partially recycled fabrics in their clothing and will label the pieces as “eco-friendly” but they fail to share that their garments are produced in mass quantities in facilities that are powered by fossil-fuels. Many companies market their collections as made from recycled materials, but may not have hard proof that the fabrics were truly recycled. Though a brand might state that they pay their workers and suppliers fair wages, there may not be evidence of this. To try to uncover the truth about a brand’s environmentally and socially responsible practices, try to read their about page or sustainability claims on their website.
Even if a company is truly taking steps in the right direction by using recycled materials or eco-friendly dyes, their efforts are worth nothing if they are continuously supporting fast production, cheap manufacturing, and unfair working conditions.
We made a list of some popular brands that are blatantly or secretly guilty of greenwashing that you might want to stay away from until they make clearer or more satisfactory efforts:
Recently, the H&M brand has heavily promoted their “Conscious Collection”, in which they claim to use organic cotton and recycled polyester. Though they market this collection as sustainably friendly, they have been criticized for their vagueness about the collection’s environmental benefits. H&M vows to only use sustainable sourced or recycled materials by 2030, though this promise can easily be another ploy to gain support. Their collection is an obvious tactic to promote their company as one that makes efforts to supply green clothing, yet they are one of the most problematic brands in the fast fashion industry.
2. & Other Stories:
This brand largely markets that their pieces are created in Sweden and provide fair and appropriate for European garment workers. The brick-and-mortar stores are even decorated with photos of “Swedish workers” dedicated to their craft and working on the pieces that you may find in their stores. In reality, the pieces are designed in Stockholm, but are then produced in China, Bulgaria and Bangladesh. As a branch of the more popular H&M brand, the company has a similar supply and production chain, one that is surely not entirely ethical or eco-friendly.
Asos is another popular fast-fashion company that is loosely throwing around the term “sustainable” with their new “Circular Collection”. Many problems have already arisen with this initiative, as the brand created 8 pillars of points that make a product “eco-friendly” (including zero-waste design, recycled input, and minimized waste), stating that each piece is required to have at least 2 of the 8 principles to be included in the collection. The issue with this is that each of the principles go hand in hand, and for the pieces to be truly sustainable and ethical, it is impossible to pick and choose which of the standards a piece meets. This proves that ASOS is just one more brand creating a sustainable initiative to trick their customers into thinking they are making a conscious purchase.
The “Join Life” collection from Zara is said to be eco-friendly, with recycled materials and ethical goals. The brand is recognized for their lack of transparency determined by how difficult they make it to find the truth about their supply chain, as most of their information is linked back to their head company, Inditex, which does not have detailed information about the Zara company on their website. Of the clothes that they sell, only a small percentage of them are categorized as “eco-friendly” and the fast-fashion giant strongly promotes mass consumerism, adding to the main issue in the current apparel industry.
5. Victoria’s Secret:
As the most recognized lingerie brands, the company has made efforts to market themselves as a green brand by signing Greenpeace’s “Detox My Fashion” campaign in with they vowed to eliminate harmful chemicals from their business by 2020, yet as we are currently in the subsequent year, there has been little talk about if this goal was truly achieved. Though they claim they have goals to be more sustainable, they have not shown any visible efforts to make the necessary changes. In recent year the brand had run-ins with child labor issues and sexual harassment of models. Much of their supply chain and labor standards are not publicly released, leaving customers with little knowledge of how sustainable and ethical the company truly is, leaving it to be just another brand with greenwashing guilt.
Similarly to the other fast fashion giants, Mango is following the business model in which they aim to make affordable products, sell a lot of them quickly, and ignore the repercussions of these actions. Their “Committed Collection” is essentially pieces that are said to be made of partially recycled materials with natural dyes. Still, the vagueness of their claims and efforts make it difficult to see how much of these products are truly sustainable made and are more environmentally friendly than the brand’s other products. Additionally, Mango has been exposed for apparent incidents of workplace endangerment, which they have tried to apologize for, yet we cannot be sure how much has changed in their production.
Lululemon tries to be categorized as planet conscious with their 6 “Natural Blends” in which they use materials such as bamboo, TENCEL, and SEACELL. Though the efforts to create products from these naturals is appreciated, less than 10% of the garments sold on their website are produced from these materials. The rest of their pieces use materials like spandex, nylon, polyester, all of which take fossil fuels to create and are known to shed microplastics. Additionally, Lulu sources a majority of their labor from overseas and uses plastic polybag mailers in their packaging, which are wasteful and hard to recycle. With that being said, the brand has not made efforts to end the production of these materials.
There are many other examples of greenwashing hidden in the fashion industry including Uniqlo, Boohoo, Puma’s biodegradable InCycle Collection, Adidas’ Design for Environment gear, etc. The hardest part of greenwashing is recognizing when a brand is being honest and transparent, or if they are only trying to falsely make a name for themselves as being “eco-friendly”. To combat the difficulty of this in larger fashion brands, create goals of straying from fast fashion companies, brands without transparency, and vague terminology that can be misleading. Instead try to support small businesses with clear goals and efforts. Hopefully, if we all refrain from supporting the fast fashion and greenwashing that happens in the clothing industry, we can pave the way for more important businesses that are committed to planet Earth.