These days, many brands and corporations are cashing in on the 'ethical' trend, interjecting words like 'sustainable,' 'eco-friendly,' and 'conscious' into their brand lingo. Many companies are keen to tout their "green" credentials as impact and ethics resonate increasingly with customers.
But are these words being used correctly? Are so many brands really truly 'ethical?'
Today, on the blog, we take a deep dive into the alarming trend - greenwashing. Learn what it is, how to spot it, and what you can do to avoid it.
What is Greenwashing?
The term "greenwashing" came into use in 1986 and was coined by environmentalist and writer Jay Westervelt. Greenwashing is a marketing technique that portrays misleading and inaccurate information about a company or a product in regards to environmental impact. As a marketing technique, greenwashing highlights the product/company in a positive light in relation to the evironment.
The first examples of corporate greenwashing can be seen back in the 1960s with the case of the Westinghouse Nuclear Power Plants in USA. The 1960s saw a historic rise of protest movements in the US - among them, the anti-nuclear movement, which sought to raise awareness about the safety issues and environmental impact of nuclear power plants. Westinghouse fought back against these allegations, and released a series of ads promoting the safety and cleanliness of nuclear power plants.
Another example of corporate greenwashing lies in the BP (the multi-national oil company) re-brand in 2000. Beyond Petroleum sought a new logo for the future of their company. But the re-brand drew much ire and criticism. Their new logo features a green helios (named after the Greek god of the sun). The green helios represents a brighter, greener future, while fossil fuels remain the biggest pollutants and oil companies have consistently lobbied against climate change science.
What is Greenwashing in Fashion?
Ever seen a fast fashion company advertise a new collection as 'conscious,' 'ethical,' or 'sustainable' ?
UK retailer Primark drew ire earlier this year with the launch of their new 'sustainable' collection - Primark Cares. The Primark Cares Initiative is part of a broader strategy to become a more sustainable brand.
While Primark is certainly making steps in the right direction - from adopting the ETI Code of Conduct as well as boycotting Uzebki cotton - the brand still has work to do. Garment workers at Primark factories are not guaranteed a living wage, and as Primark outsources the manufacturing process to suppliers, it does not have a transparent supply chain, and is not chiefly responsible for any labour issues.
Ultimately, Primark's business model will never truly be sustainable as the fast-fashion retailer's model is built on cheap, poorly-made clothing designed to last for one season.
How Can I Avoid Greenwashing?
- Look for evidence.
Seek out concrete information and facts that support their claims. What percentage of the material is recycled? If a brand advertises a collection as using recycled fibers/materials, look for more information. If a garment uses 10% recycled material, then you know the information is misleading.
- Be wary of vague claims.
Terms like "Our most sustainable collection yet," or "Eco-friendly," are blatant greenwashing attempts. False certifications made up by the brand are also a red flag.
- Fast fashion, as a model, will never truly be sustainable or ethical.
While it is positive that fast fashion brands recognise the importance of enhancing the sustainability of their products, it is also important to understand that the fast fashion business model is not one based on durability/longevity.
While H&M is incorporating organic cotton into their collections, H&M also has a history of labour abuse.
- Certifications matter.
In an industry that is full of dizzying information, certifications can help add some clarity to a brand's mission.
World Fair Trade Organisation stands for putting people and the planet before profit. The WFTO Mark stands for combating poverty, climate change, gender inequality, and injustice.
GoodWeave - Ensures the eradication of child labour in the supply chain. Mostly applicable in the interiors industry but GoodWeave is also beginning to work in the apparel and jewellery sectors as well.
GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is based on ecological and labour conditions in the textile and apparel manufacturing. It factors into account farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility and includes welfare standards for animal husbandry.
The Soil Association wants to ensure the highest possible standards of animal welfare, environmental and wildlife protection, so we have our own higher – or stricter – standards in key areas.
Peta-Approved Vegan - A certification to highlight products made from vegan alternatives to bone, silk, leather, fur, etc.
Certified B Corps - B Corp Certification is a designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials
Label STEP is the fair trade non-profit organization committed to the wellbeing of weavers and workers in the handmade carpet industry. Label STEP’s industry-leading 10-point Standard provides the broadest and strictest labour, health, safety, social and environmental rules in the carpet industry.
The Nest Seal is a symbol of assurance letting consumers know that the items they shop, from fashion to furniture, have been ethically handcrafted in a home or small workshop.
- Do your research.
What information can you find out about the product or company? Do your research on the materials being used and learn more the workers at the brand. Transparency is important, and by doing research on the company model, their practices, and the workers, you can make an informed decision of where your money goes.
Image: Cherie Birkner via Unsplash.