What is it Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a form of marketing which deceives the public in thinking that an organisation’s products, goals, and policies are environmentally and ethically friendly. So, even if you’ve made the effort to change your consumption habits and class yourself as a ‘conscious shopper’, you could still be being tricked by these brands…
In recent years, shoppers have become increasingly aware of the environmental and ethical effects of the fashion industry. People are starting to question how £5 covers the entire production process of a T-shirt, including the cost of fabric, transport, wages, rent and bills. The only way to produce garments at such a low cost is by making cuts at some point of the production. This is usually done by buying cheap, low quality fabrics, or exploiting the garments workers.
Now, if you’re browsing a store and see two of the same products but one has a green sticker on saying “sustainably made” with a tree next to it, and the other doesn’t – which one are you most likely to buy?
It’s most likely that shoppers will pick the one with the sticker because that’ll make them feel good and they’ve been told its sustainable.
Brands are aware of how important sustainability and ethics have become to the public but can’t afford to raise their prices to produce sustainably, because the low price is ultimately what their customers like about them. They are also not allowed to lie about being sustainable and ethical when they aren’t because that is illegal. But what they are allowed to do, is find loopholes in their marketing and insinuate that they are ethical and sustainable, deceiving the customer. It’s a win win for the brand, they appear green and caring of the planet so receive more sales, whilst their only additional cost is the green ink and the sticker.
However, greenwashing is unethical – and once the consumer becomes more aware of how to detect greenwashing, the brands will be called out, receive bad PR, and lose the trust if the public.
How to detect Greenwashing?
The best way to detect greenwashing is by assessing the company’s level of transparency – this doesn’t measure their sustainable efforts, but how open they are to the public about their production process. If a company are open to dedicating a page of their website to explain their values, initiative, and policies, backed with facts and figures, their likely to be genuine in their green marketing. However, vague, and broad comments, with no explanation tend raise red flags.
Figure 1: Fashion Revolution’s 2020 Transparency Index
The main way in which I evaluate a brand’s green marketing is simple - I ask myself, how can you so be sustainable and green whilst producing so much for such little money? I’m starting to think big company’s greenwashing is becoming cliché and obvious – the use of greens, natural handwriting, summer field photoshoots and natural looking models is rather stereotypical.
Who’s doing it?
Here are some examples of broad comments with no proof:
Quoted from H&M’s S/S ‘19 Conscious Collection: “Every piece in the collection is made from sustainably sourced material, such as 100% organic cotton”
Firstly, what does sustainably sourced mean – Sustainably grown as in the farmers haven’t used any pesticides? Or is it sustainable as in they have a long-term relationship with their material suppliers?
These are two very different factors; it is important that companies define their meaning of sustainable so consumers can gather an understand of their supply-chain process and the degree of ‘ethical’ production which is taking place. Once achieved, consumer can then make their decision whether they would like to buy into and support this process.
Figure 2: H&M Conscious Collection
Secondly, the above quote indicates that each garment of the collection is made up of just one organic material, which would be great as it could then be recyclable. However, when you further investigate the briefing of the collection, it says differently. This to me, as a consumer of the fashion industry, rings alarm bells.
Unfortunately, Primark is also a culprit, they are also trying to win the hearts of all of us eco conscious shoppers:
Quoted from Primark’s sustainability denim collection “if you love Denim and the planet too, then our new denim collection from 100% sustainable cotton will be the perfect match” … but it’s priced at £15, need I say more.
Ironically, a couple weeks after assigning Irish TV presenter Laura Whitmore as Primark Care’s Sustainability Ambassador, Primark tweeted: ‘Normalise going into Primark for “just socks” and coming out three full shopping bags.’ This encourages the overconsumption of unneeded products, making shoppers dubious of the legitimacy of this ‘Primark cares’ campaign. The Tweet has since been deleted after it faced backlash.
Figure 2: Primark Cares Campaign
Is it allowed?
Well, this is the loophole – The UK Government’s definition of sustainability is: “The state towards which the UK Government’s vision for sustainable development aspires” ….
So, where there’s no meaningful legal definition, there’s no legal requirement that’s comes with use of the word ‘sustainability’ and the lexicon of ‘green’ words relevant to it. Meaning there is no standards that qualifies a company to use the buzz words in association with their company.
It still shocks me that fast fashion companies have the grounds to claim ‘genuine’ sustainable and ethical production as the whole point of sustainability is to produce products that are long-lasting in the use of renewable resources. Whereas the fast fashion companies are feeding and providing a constant demand for unnecessary volume, jeopardising our people and planet.
Unfortunately, greenwashing is clever and easy to fall for, which is why it’s important that as consumers we continue to educate ourselves and use our power and purse to grow the right companies whilst demand change from the rest.