Greenwashing in fashion: What it is and how to spot it

Greenwashing is becoming more widespread in the fashion industry as sustainable fashion grows in popularity.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing definition: Greenwashing involves companies making you believe that their practices are doing more to protect the environment than it actually is. This could be achieved through misleading advertisements or over-stating a certain eco-friendly quality of a company or product.

Examples of Greenwashing

Here are some greenwashing examples to give you an idea of what it can look like.

H&M was under fire recently for their greenwashing tactics. The Norwegian Consumer Authority accused H&M under their Marketing Control Act for making general claims about their so-called ‘sustainable’ Conscious Collection which did not specify the actual environmental benefit of each garment.

Boohoo, an online clothing retailer has also been called out for greenwashing. They claim that their new ‘For the Future’ range is made from recycled materials so that customers can ‘do their bit for the environment’ but did not say how much of the garment is made from recycled materials and whether it is certified as truly recycled. Moreover, a 2017 Dispatches investigation found garment workers making Boohoo products in the UK earning only £3 an hour, less than half the legal minimum wage.

Greenwashing

How to spot and avoid greenwashing

Greenwashing marketing can be tricky to spot so here are some tips to help.

  • Always check the label: Check the materials that the product is made of. Be wary of companies claiming their clothing is organic even when the organic content only makes up a small portion of their overall fabric. Also be wary of companies marketing ‘sustainable collections’ as it doesn’t mean all the products sold by them are. 
  • Look for third party certifications: To be sure that the company you are buying from is sustainable it is always wise to look for what certification they have. Any ‘sustainable’ claims that cannot be backed up remain questionable.
  • Check with the certifier to verify the product is truly certified: Be wary of retailers and brands misusing logos and icons to make them appear in a more favourable light. Fake or expired certifications can happen too so it’s better to check.
  • Check the product’s packaging: If the product comes with a lot of unnecessary plastic packaging then the company is possibly not as green as they may seem. True eco-friendly companies would see this as a large contributor to environmental harm.
  • Seek details and transparency: Ask companies for more information about their suppliers and processes. The more verifiable details they provide, the more likely they are to be genuine. Here's an example of what transparency in fashion looks like.
  • Check the price: If a ‘sustainable and organic’ piece of clothing is cheap then it is very likely a greenwashing tactic. Genuinely ethical and sustainable clothing cost more to make and therefore can’t be cheap.
  • Take a holistic view: If the company’s business model is fast-fashion (mass over-production with heavy discounts and frequent release of new products) and/or the rest of the company’s products are not made sustainably, then the ‘sustainable collection’ is merely a greenwashing tactic. 

Greenwashing is something consumers must be watchful of, so as to not be misled. If not kept in check, greenwashing can lead to buyer skepticism and discourage genuine sustainable efforts.

Greenwashing

What you can do

Be ready to fact-check sustainable claims made by the brands/retailers you buy from.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good (wo)men do nothing.” Edmund Burke

To learn more about Greenwashing, check out these resources:

What the Australian Consumer Law says – key takeaways on what consumer rights and company responsibilities are around green marketing

Green Wash Watch – an Instagram account made to call out greenwashing fashion companies

Earth Echo – an informative piece on what greenwashing is.

Greenwashing in the new millennium – an academic article by Nancy Furlow

 

FOR MORE INFO ABOUT LILY & LORD SUSTAINABLE KIDS FASHION AUSTRALIA, PLEASE CONTACT US.

 

References:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/greenwash
https://www.dezeen.com/2019/08/02/hm-norway-greenwashing-conscious-fashion-collection-news/
https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/kzmw5a/the-greenwashing-hiding-the-truth-of-your-favourite-fashion-brands
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/boohoo-s-green-claims-don-t-wash-say-critics-v7dcl8z6w
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/boohoo-wool-ban-animal-rights-backlash-a8782906.html
https://goodonyou.eco/how-can-you-tell-when-a-fashion-brand-is-greenwashing/
http://www.therevivalcollective.com/primark-and-greenwashing-in-the-fashion-industry/
https://www.fastcompany.com/90352401/is-your-favorite-fashion-brand-greenwashing-use-this-checklist-to-find-out
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-17/target-cotton-on-drop-suppliers-after-four-corners-investigation/11607518

 

WRITTEN BY EVELYN LEOW, BACHELOR OF ECONOMICS (HONOURS), UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND; FASHION AND SUSTAINABILITY, LONDON COLLEGE OF FASHION
AND
AMBER SUNNER, JOURNALISM STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF KENT

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