Updated: Jun 8
"Sustainable". "Green Brand". "Eco Fashion". "Cruelty-free". "All-Natural". "Recyclable". "Non-toxic".
Sound familiar? These buzzwords might be synonymous with your favorite fashion brands. But, did you know that these buzzwords are strategically used by Fashion Brands to appeal to your sentiments and are often just placative words and look different in action. So, as conscious consumers, let us learn a bit about how we can look out for greenwashing in Fashion Brands.
The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries globally. But unfortunately, it is also one of the most lucrative. So, this has led to many brands greenwashing their image or pretending to be environmentally friendly when they're not.
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is when a company claims to be environmentally friendly in their marketing efforts but fails to show these policies in practice. This can take many forms, but some common examples are using green imagery in their branding, making claims about their products being eco-friendly without proper certification or verification, or investing in donating to “green causes” while continuing to pollute. Conscious consumers are becoming more aware but many brands continue to hoodwink and appease the “consciousness” of the consumers by greenwashing and appealing to their environmental concerns through marketing messaging.
"I'm worried about Greenwashing. I think we should come down on it very very hard, whether it's with criminal intent or actively deceptive." – John Elkington
Three Easy Ways to Spot Signs of Greenwashing as a conscious consumer:
# 1: Check whether the brands claims about being “eco-friendly” are properly backed:
This includes claims that products are made from organic materials or made with sustainably sourced materials, or made with sustainable packaging…. Sound familiar? You are not alone to fall prey to convincing communication designed to manipulate the “conscious” consumer in you.
Well, in practice, it is easy to back these claims: There are global agencies that carry out environmental audits to ensure that companies claiming “environmental” standards are actually following them. Agencies like Fair Trade, Cradle to Cradle, etc. provide certifications and companies that submit themselves to these audits and certifications get bragging rights. If these audit badges are missing from your favourite brands website but their communication language implies meeting or even surpassing common environmental standards, that is a clear red flag.
# 2: Understanding where Brands are meeting Minimal Legal Compliances vs Setting Environmental Standards:
Many countries have now implemented laws that mandate certain levels of energy efficiency for products and certain water waste disposal standards, etc. So if you see a brand mention 'energy efficient' or ‘responsible disposal’ on a product when it's just meeting the minimum legal requirements, it’s a sign of greenwashing. Check the minimum legal environmental standards in your country and see which brands are merely compliant or whether they have gone beyond minimum requirements to show they actually care. Don’t fall for that lip service my dearies, you’re smarter than that.
#3: Investing in Green Causes while Continuing to Pollute egregiously:
If you spot a brand donating to green causes, such as planting trees or cleaning up beaches but also polluting through their manufacturing processes or by using unsustainable materials, it is a clear sign of greenwashing. The latest trend is claiming to use recycled material in their manufacturing range, but the truth is the efforts while exist are minimal but grossly exaggerated. This greenwashing technique makes consumers believe that the company cares about the environment when they're just trying to cover up the environmental damage they have actively contributed to.
What can you do about Greenwashing? Really?
The best way to combat greenwashing is to educate yourself about the issue. Fashion has become a low engagement purchase, where today, we don’t care how our fabrics are sourced or disposed of. You as a truly conscious consumer have an opportunity to change that. Ask brands the tough questions; look beyond their superbly entertaining and misleading marketing campaigns; dig deeper and get to know the brands behind their logos. Check out organisations that monitor fashion brands like Good on You or Clean Clothes Campaign, etc. This will give you an idea of how dirty the branded clothes business really is.
Learn to spot the signs of greenwashing, and don't be afraid to call out brands that you think are engaging in it. You can also support sustainable fashion brands and vote with your wallet by purchasing from genuinely environmentally friendly companies. You have more power than you give yourself credit for!
Researched by: @Labanya Mitra