What is Greenwashing?
As consumer trends shift to a more sustainably conscious consumer there has been an emergence of more sustainable companies entering the market, however this has also led to a rise of already established brands adapting to Greenwashing in order to market their clothing lines.
Greenwashing is essentially a brand portraying and marketing themselves as sustainable and/or ethical whilst making no tangible efforts to improve their environmental impact. The main reasoning behind Greenwashing is that currently ethicality and sustainability equal profitability and access to a wider customer base.
”66% of consumers would spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand, and that jumps to 73% among millennials“ (Nielson’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report)
The most concerning thing about Greenwashing is its ability to mislead a large number of consumers into acting unsustainably without being aware. This leading to more environmental damage with the intention of putting a stop to it. Smaller truly sustainable companies will also suffer as they struggle to compete with the prices of other ‘sustainable’ options as they continue to make sure their supply chain and subsequent products are sustainable and ethical.
The environmental impact of the fashion industry
When we think of pollution and negative impacts upon the environment, our minds often go to industries such as oil, transport and non-renewable energy sources. However, did you know, the fashion industry is now the second largest polluter in the world.
There are many environmental concerns surrounding the fashion industry such as: greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and deforestation to name a few. One of the more prolific problems of the fashion industry is the pollution created by the microfibres present in our clothes.
Each time a synthetic garment (usually the product of fast fashion) around 700,000 individual microfibres are released into the water and eventually into our oceans. These are fibres are then digested by fish introducing plastics into our food chain. Simple ways to avoid this is by choosing clothing made from natural or semi-synthetic fibres as well as washing our clothes at lower temperatures.
”190,000 tons of textile micro plastic fibres are going into the oceans each year” (SustainYourStyle)
For more on the harmful environmental impacts of the fashion industry click here
How to spot greenwashing
There are a few simple ways to spot companies Greenwashing rather than being legitimately sustainable.
1) Avoid companies that only promote their clothing lines with key words such as ‘sustainable‘ or ‘eco-friendly’ without any accreditations from organisations that police sustainability within companies.
2) If a company places high importance upon eco-friendly packaging but does not explicitly talk about the sustainability of their products. This is used to create a brand image of ethicality rather than making the steps necessary to ensure it.
3) If a company talks about the payment of a ‘minimum wage’. This is very different to a ‘living wage’ which ensures that a garment worker is able to have a high quality of life. Often companies that speak very vaguely about their labour standards and only refer to paying a minimum wage are outsourcing their manufacturing costs to sweatshops.
4) The introduction of a ‘sustainable range’ within large companies. This is often a marketing tactic where people will head to see these stores for sustainability, where only a very small portion of their products are actually sustainable. Consumers are then likely to browse the whole shop floor and purchase clothing that they believe is sustainable as the company has marketed itself as such.
Examples of greenwashing
One example of Greenwashing is Boohoo’s introduction of their sustainable collection ‘READY FOR THE FUTURE’. The brand which is known as one of the largest fast-fashion retailers promised this new range used recycled materials and made ‘dressing sustainably much easier’.
However when looking into the materials used for these products it was found they were made using some plastics such as acrylic; which Boohoo did not provide any proof that this material was sourced sustainably.
Their sustainable range was also very similar in price to their original lines with some items costing less than £10, which begs the question how much are they paying their garment workers? This line was market as sustainable to customers however without any mention of the labour conditions and wages of their workers this a prime example of greenwashing and a larger bran capitalising on the rising popularity of sustainability within fashion.