Greenwashing in the fashion industry 101

Niamh Wheldon

Climate change is a topic that is taking over the media and can be considered one of the most pressing global issues to date. However, there is a significant lack of urgency from governments and worldwide corporations, who are sitting back and letting this devastation occur. Introducing 5p plastic carry bags, doesn’t even scratch the surface of the problems, or even begin to help limit the impacts we as humans are having. There is need for significant change, and the blame shouldn’t be placed on individuals or consumers, the problem needs to be tackled via a mass effort, otherwise it’ll be too late.

The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world today, and produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions, it is the second largest consumer of the worlds water supply, as it takes an astonishing amount of water to produce cotton. The fashion industry is also responsible for releasing microplastics into the ocean. Consumers are buying more and more clothes every day, and the rise of fast fashion, and shortened lead times has meant that consumers are caring less about the quality of their clothes and more about how many items them can have for a lower price. Throwaway culture is extremely toxic, because consumers have spent less on certain items, they don’t care if they wear it once and then never again. When they throw cheap items away which are made from cheap materials, they end up in landfill, the cheap materials are also a lot harder to recycle and break down.

Fashion companies are trying to tackle their impact, buy introducing sustainable ranges and using sustainable materials and production methods, however in some instances what they are saying and what they are actually doing are very different. Hence where ‘Greenwashing’ comes from, companies make consumers think that what they are buying is sustainable, when in reality its not and these companies actually just want to make themselves more profit.

I have learnt a significant amount about greenwashing and tricks that brands use during my time at university, and this is something I am aware of now because of that, however not every consumer is going to be aware of this, so here are some things you as a consumer can do to watch out for greenwashing.

1. Look at the products material composition

This may sound simple, but some brands claim that their products contain sustainable materials, but generally the product isn’t made of 100% of that sustainable material, and actually it is only made from about 16-20% of the sustainable material. So in reality the fraction of the sustainable material is so small, buying it isn’t going to have a positive impact.

2. Fast fashion brands claiming they have sustainable product ranges

A lot of fast fashion brands are coming out with sustainable product ranges, such as Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing who now have ‘recycled’ collections, from an outside perspective this seems legitimate however when you dive deeper into the collections there is little to no information about what is actually going into the products and also the question of can fast fashion ever be truly sustainable is raised. The products are still at that low price point, so the question of ethics is also raised, which is a topic that circles the fast fashion industry. As consumers, a lot of us also know that brands like this don’t have environmentally sound production methods, so this contradicts the idea of ‘sustainability’.

3. Unfair comparisons

Some brands claim that their products are ‘more eco-friendly’ or ‘greener’, but they don’t go into detail about what they are comparing it with. If there is no comparison, it means that they are just using the tag lines to increase their sales, this is a prime example of greenwashing

4. Natural and recycled materials don’t always = eco friendly

Natural materials like viscose and bamboo doesn’t always mean that they are sustainable, the production of viscose can be partly responsible for deforestation, as 150 million trees are cut down for viscose production every year, it is only deemed responsible if it comes from a certified source. Bamboo is a natural fibre that is becoming more and more popular, however when it is begin grown it is sprayed with harmful pesticides and nasty chemicals are used when it is been turned into fibres for clothes.

5. Transparency

Many fashion brands have pages and pages of information on their websites or none at all, and neither of these are useful to the consumer. When there is no information about their sustainability practices and anything regarding ethical issues, this is an instant red flag. However, on the other end of this scale, some brands bombard consumers with an overwhelming amount of information to make it look like they are taking action, but if you are to actually read what is included, it is very much quantity over quality, and its just for show. Brands need to be transparent about their production process and methods and need to show it in a way in which it is easier for the consumer to understand.

It is clear that some brands are really trying to have a positive impact, but it is also clear that other brands are claiming to be responsible when they truly aren’t. As consumers we need to be vigilant and aware of their tricks. We should all try to make more a conscious effort when it comes to buying clothes and invest in sustainable pieces and buy less. This effort would help to lessen the impacts the fashion industry is having on the environment and the climate.