At this point, everyone reading this has heard the term 'greenwashing'. You're probably all vaguely familiar with its negative connotation and know that it means something fishy is going on.
But what exactly does it mean in regards to fashion, and what does it mean for you as a consumer? How does greenwashing actually affect your daily life?
Probably more than you think.
At the end of the day, greenwashing is essentially false advertising.
In today's world of ever-evolving, conscious shoppers, large companies are hearing consumers requests for more sustainable products & more transparency loud and clear. They know that their customers want to know where their products come from, who is making them, the effect that making the said product has on the environment...all of it.
They know. And they care. But what they aren't interested in doing is changing their tried and true methods of making money just so that their customers can sleep at night. They aren't interested in investing more time and money towards properly sourcing their materials, or paying their workers a living wage.
Instead, many large companies have found a loophole called 'Greenwashing' which can make them look and seem more environmentally friendly than they are by utilizing fancy language & false statistics, or even changing their packaging to look more "eco-friendly" (think lots of green and kraft paper labels).
Greenwashing can take on many forms, and not all of them are easy to spot. Here are some of the more sneaky ways that fashion companies are able to trick consumers into believing their products are environmentally friendly:
1. Look-Alike Logos
There are many government-run programs that strive to reward and recognize companies who are actually fighting the good fight. These often have a branded logo that only companies who follow their strict guidelines are permitted to use. Companies who don't qualify may put a similar or "official" looking logo on their products that proclaims "fair trade", "all-natural", "organic" etc. While this may look convincing, it takes some research to find out what the official logo of say, a "fair-trade" certification looks like, and cross-reference that with what you are seeing on the packaging.
Look for logos such as these in everyday products:
The fashion industry has many of its own certifications, so make sure to do your research if you are concerned about the materials, chemicals & standards by which your clothing is made. Some more common ones are:
Oeko-Tex is a global standardization by which textiles are measured for harmful (for humans and the planet) substances & production practices. They are leading the charge in identifying eco-friendly textile dyes & colourants.
Tencel is a trademarked brand of lyocell & modal fabrics created by the Austrian company Lenzing. They ensure that their cellulose fibres are sustainably harvested using a closed-loop system and that their raw material is grown on land that is deemed unsuitable for food usage - therefore not taking away valuable farming land. Only products that use Tencel branded lyocell fabrics are allowed to use their logo and the Tencel name - if you see products made from 'lyocell' or 'modal', the material is likely not collected or created in a sustainable way. Check out our blog "Focus on Fibre: TENCEL" to learn more about this awesome fabric!
GOTS or Global Organic Textile Standard is a worldwide standardization for organic textile processing which focuses on the ecological and social impacts of the entire supply chain. Look for this logo if you want to be extra sure that your products are 100% organic certified.
This one is a FAVOURITE of the fashion industry, and not to name names, but H&M is faaaamous for this one, guys. Trade-offs refer to large companies who promote a "sustainable" product or initiative, while not making any changes to their overall production practices.
Since I've already called them out, let's use H&M as an example. Recently they have ramped up marketing on their "Conscious" collection, a line of basics that are "designed to promote the use of recycled materials." They claim that this collection aims to prove that "affordable, stylish fashion and sustainability is possible."
That's a great initiative, and we love that H&M is teaching the values of sustainability to their customers. What isn't mentioned, however, is that this Conscious collection is but a sliver of their annual production and sales; the majority of their products are still produced in horrific working conditions, with poor-quality textiles, and designed to be cheap and disposable.
The Conscious collection is still sold for a fraction of what garments should be sold for, contributing to the systemic undervaluing of the amount of time, resources, raw materials, and energy it takes to produce clothing, as well as to the culture of volume that it has created. And to top it all off, recycling fabric is still extremely difficult and not yet efficient, which means that likely, only a fraction of their products can actually claim "recycled" materials. But here's where you find that sneaky Greenwashing - that fraction is more than enough. Without anyone to hold them accountable to these claims, the Conscious collection need only contain 1% (ONE PERCENT) recycled or organic textile to be deemed 'sustainable'. THIS is why it's so important to do your research. Call out your favourite brands & use your brains - if it seems to good to be true (a $9 organic cotton t-shirt!? Produced ethically?! I don't think so...) then it probably is.
3. The Ol' Switcharoo
With transparency, human and animal rights at the forefront of the media & many consumers minds right now, some companies are undergoing changes to their policies that might sound great, but ultimately end up having negative impacts on the planet.
An example of this is the many fashion brands swearing off of animal products such as fur, only to switch to using faux-fur, which is, 99% of the time, created from petroleum-based materials and while being friendlier to animals, is much, much worse for the planet to produce.
Now the vegan vs. natural product debate in fashion is a losing battle on both sides - animal products, while not only cruel, can also be hard on the planet to produce, however, are ultimately biodegradable. Petroleum-based products, well, I'm sure I don't have to explain the damage they do. Someday, I will write a book about the battle between animal vs. synthetic products, but for now, as a brand, we have sworn off of all animal OR faux-animal materials for these reasons - until there are better solutions out there, we figure you can live without a fur coat, real or fake.
If a brand is advertising switching to animal-free products but is still selling "leather", it's time to do some research. Same goes for companies that switch their production from one country to another. They may no longer produce in China, but that is most likely not the end of the story. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to combat the Ol' Switcharoo. The only answer is to DO YOUR RESEARCH.
So what's the easiest way to tackle all this sneaky greenwashing? The simple answer is, know your brands. Shopping from small or local companies means that it's much easier to find out their ethics and policies before you buy. Shopping larger brands might take a bit of extra work, but really diving into the companies history and background can tell you a lot about their production practices. There are many apps & websites nowadays that track fashion brands production & manufacturing processes (Good On You is one of the best for large brands). Know your materials, know the conditions they are created in. Ask your brands for transparency. It's a bit more work on your end, but it's the only way large companies will start to make real changes. And never be shy to ask questions. Email the brands. And most importantly, use your gut. If you can't find the information your looking for, its usually because the brand isn't interested in sharing, and that, my friends, is not a brand you want to be supporting anyways.
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