Are sustainable brands really as sustainable as they claim? Or are they just using sustainability as a marketing strategy to increase price and brand awareness?
This article will help you avoid greenwashing in fashion by differentiating between legit sustainable brands to brands that simply want to sell the idea of sustainability to increase their revenues.
Table of Contents
- What is Greenwashing
- How to avoid greenwashing as a consumer
- Solutions of greenwashing in fashion
But first of all!
What is Greenwashing?
“Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.” – Investopedia
The term was first used in the mid 1980s by the environmentalist Jay Westervelt, even though he used this term for the hotel industry, rapidly it started getting popularity in other industries as well.
In simple words, the company claims to be sustainable and ethical but doesn’t live up to those claims.
Greenwashing is basically a marketing tool used by companies to make their environmental impact look greater than they actually are. Companies are able to do that by misleading consumers when communicating via social media platforms and their own websites.
The use of green color and buzzwords such as ‘eco-friendly’, ‘green’, ‘ethical’ makes consumers believe that the brand is actually ethical and sustainable, but those advertisements have no information to back it up.
Greenwashing has become a bigger issue since fast-fashion brands started launching ‘sustainable’, ‘green’, ‘responsible’ or ‘conscious’ collections. Just to try to convince consumers that their business model has become more environmentally conscious.
Personally, I believe that this is just a way to fool consumers because, in order for fast fashion to be sustainable and not use it just as a marketing tool, they have to change their business model.
A business that is focused on overproducing, and still uses marketing strategies that motivate people to buy a new piece of clothing every week can not be sustainable.
From a business perspective, I understand that the company has to introduce something new bit by bit to see how consumers are reacting to it, to be able to reduce the risk.
However, I do believe that the change has to be aligned with the core value of the company in order to be genuine and honest, which I am not seeing this happening with the fast fashion brands.
How to avoid greenwashing as a consumer?
It’s not always easy for a consumer to differentiate a real sustainable brand from a brand that is greenwashing, and that’s why sometimes we tend to just stop caring altogether because we feel that there is not much we can do.
However, I do believe that taking that path, will just let things continue the way they are. That’s not fair for the environment, for the workers that are paid below living costs, for the brands that are trying so hard to make a difference, and lastly is not fair for you, as a consumer.
If you are paying a premium price for a brand because they are claiming to be eco-friendly, they should be that!
These are some key steps that help you avoid greenwashing:
1. What makes them eco-friendly?
a. Is the brand sustainable in several aspects of the supply chain?
Many brands out there claim to be sustainable simply because they use organic cotton. I am not saying that using organic cotton is not a good initiative however, I believe that a brand should be considering more than just the fabric before they claim to be ‘green’.
A company that claims to be sustainable, should consider the carbon emission, the impact that the factory with which they collaborate creates, the garment workers’ rights, the dyeing pollution, and the type of material used for packaging.
The brand should take into consideration different aspects of the supply chain, not only one, before market their products sustainable.
b. What is the benefit for the environment, human and animal welfare?
Environment issues, human rights, and animal welfare aspects should not only be taken into consideration but also given equal importance.
Many fast fashion brands claim that they only collaborate with factories that pay above ‘minimum wage’. However, there is a difference between the ‘living wage’ and the minimum wage.
In many countries, Bangladesh being one of them, a garment worker doesn’t reach the living wage not even when working 10 hours a day 6 days a week, family members have to live together in order to be able to have a minimum living condition.
A benefit for animal welfare does not mean a benefit for the environment, an example of this is synthetic fur.
Many brands claim to be eco-friendly because they use synthetic fur instead of real fur for their collection, even though that’s a major achievement for the welfare of the animal doesn’t exclude the fact that jackets made of synthetic fur release an average of 1,174 milligrams of microfibers when washed.
A brand should consider these three different areas equally before claiming to be sustainable and eco-friendly.
c. Where and how is the product produced?
Nowadays, there is a big trend among brands to label their products such as: ‘Designed in California’, the issue with this is that people tend to confuse ‘designed in’ with ‘made in’.
The product could have been designed in California, but that doesn’t mean it was produced in the same place.
On the website of the brands that claim to be eco-friendly, you should be able to see, where and under what conditions are the crops of those fabrics produced, what kind of dyes are used for the fabrics, what the policies of the factories are that the brand is collaborating with regards to the garment workers, the pollution and what target does the brand have to reduce carbon emissions.
Even though it’s a lot to take into consideration and is hard at the beginning for a small company to do so, I believe that a brand that doesn’t want to greenwash is extremely honest about its limitations and future environmental goals.
2. Can the brand prove it?
a. Is the brand transparent?
Checking if the brand is transparent when it comes to reaching its sustainable goals is a perfect way you can avoid greenwashing in fashion.
Many ‘sustainable’ brands are not very transparent when it comes to their factories, they only communicate about the use of sustainable fabrics however, that’s not enough to know if they produce in an ethical way.
An example of this is Zara, the brand has informed that from 2025 all of its clothes will be made from 100% sustainable fabrics. But, the company still doesn’t take responsibility for its garment workers.
The brand shows no transparency, as it still refuses to publicize its supplier list, this is extremely important for the customer, as it’s the only way to make sure that the clothes are produced in an ethical and sustainable way.
A brand that has nothing to hide, would not only make public that list but also share pictures of the factories and the story behind the scene.
b. Does the brand have any certificates from official authorities?
It’s not enough to claim that you are using sustainable fabrics for your garments if you don’t have any certificate to back you up.
You can easily spot those brands that are greenwash because most of them only say that they use sustainable fabrics however, they have no official labels that prove that.
Here are some of the labels that you can search for when buying a garment from a sustainable brand:
c. Is the brand open to answer questions related to its sustainability claim?
A real eco-friendly brand is extremely proud of its initiatives, so the company is more than happy to answer your questions and explain in detail what makes them sustainable.
If there is anything that is not clear for you on their website, you can always contact them and ask questions, if they are open and give you detailed information on the topic it means that they are honest about how green the company really is.
Some smaller brands don’t want to make public where they produce, due to competition however, they don’t mind sharing more information with you if you contact them personally.
The moment that the company is giving vague answers about this issue is probably because they are greenwashing.
Solutions of greenwashing in fashion
Some people believe that there is no solution, however, I disagree with that. I strongly believe that a controlled system when it comes to what is sustainable in the fashion industry should be put in place.
A minimum benchmark should be set by an external organization that companies need to reach in order to receive a green label for their brand.
I believe that a ranking system should be put in place, where the larger you are as a company, the more levels you have to pass to reach a better ranking.
This way, smaller brands would still be incentivized to start, as it would not be as difficult and won’t require that big of an investment, however, it will be transparent for the consumer thanks to the ranking system.
On the other hand, larger brands having a bigger capital should be expected to take into consideration more aspects of the sustainability issue.
- We should take time and research a product instead of believing everything that the brand communicates
- Don’t be afraid to contact the brand to ask for more information
- Use social media and the power of word of mouth to inform others about brands that greenwash but also about brands that do a great job!