Are you new to eco-shopping? Have you been on the lookout for conscious brands to make more mindful choices?
Well, it may annoy you to find out that you could be falling victim to greenwashing without even realising it.
Greenwashing is something you’ve probably seen several times and even taken notice of, but you most likely still only got the impression the brand wanted you to get.
Lucky for you, we’re here to point out how you can find out if a fashion brand (or any company) is using misleading claims to come off as eco-friendly.
For some companies, the goal is to earn your trust and approval by making you believe they’re providers of sustainable clothing lines that promote green fashion.
In fact, they will swear that they even recycle the burger wrap from their lunch just to get you thinking how strongly they believe in sustainability.
Unfortunately, this is sometimes far from the truth.
But before we throw some light on how companies do that, let’s simplify the term a bit.
What exactly is greenwashing?
Let’s take a simple example: Imagine walking into an office and seeing pretty potted plants or solar panels; those items would most likely leave a positive impression on you, yes?
You’d probably even make a mental note to applaud this brand for its environmental consciousness and sustainability advocacy.
Well, you may find that you would’ve praised them too soon, as they might be just scratching the sustainability surface.
Likewise, greenwashing is a fake or partially true claim some fashion brands make to be seen as sustainable clothing lines.
And it’s not just fashion labels — companies in other industries do the very same thing!
The irony of it all is that brands with the most environmentally destructive practices are the ones who are quick to use greenwashing techniques.
Their goal is to trick unsuspecting people into believing that they care about the environment when in reality, their practices are detrimental to the planet.
Some have mastered such tactics so well that only a thorough investigation would reveal the negative effect of their production processes. For others, the attempt is so obvious that you can see right through it if you look closely.
Signs to watch out for
To avoid falling victim to greenwashing again, look out for messages that appear to be random or thoughtful but are just a facade.
Remember, these brands don’t care about the environment as much as they want you to think, but they will try to make it seem like they really do.
Let’s have a look at some popular greenwashing tactics that fast fashion manufacturers use.
Disclaimer: Some may sound awfully familiar.
- Attention-grabbing sustainability campaigns
Many brands launch campaigns to supposedly help or support the green movement, even if most of that is just lip service and publicity damage control.
They often make promises about subtle sustainability changes in their offices while doing nothing about their products’ harmful manufacturing.
They also don’t forget to boast about their commitment to environmental sustainability without any actual evidence to back it.
- Vague “eco-friendly” tags
You’ve definitely come across this one.
These days almost every brand claims to be environmentally friendly by using questionable tags or words with unclear meaning like “Totally Green” and “100% sustainable”.
Even if they use some sustainable materials, they will conveniently leave out any information on carbon emissions produced from transferring all their ‘eco-friendly’ products from overseas, for example.
This greenwashing tactic magnifies basic sustainable practices to distract you from their more destructive ones negatively affecting the environment.
Brands that aren’t transparent about their production process or how they source raw materials usually promote their minimal effort instead as a front to escape scrutiny.
- Emphasis on paying workers a minimum wage
For a brand to be fully sustainable, its practices need to be fair not only towards the environment but also towards the communities involved in its operations.
The word “minimum” doesn’t feature there by coincidence. Obviously, this is what factory workers should at least be paid, but minimum wage and a living wage are two very different things that have not yet been bridged by big corporations.
Many brands stress this point to appear conscientious, but the ugly truth is that most of their workers are underpaid, exploited, and sometimes even forced into labour.
To make sure you don’t support fashion terrorism, look for brands with Fair Trade certification.
- Launching a “conscious” or “sustainable” collection
This all-time favourite tactic works to boost sales. Several fast fashion brands decide to give sustainability a chance with a limited edition eco-friendly clothing line as a marketing strategy.
Don’t be fooled!
The majority of their ever-changing products are far from sustainable and their processes are still abusing the ecosystem.
Let’s talk names!
Both fashion-related and other industry brands have been found guilty of greenwashing over the years. Some of the names we’re about to mention won’t surprise you at all.
- BP plc
The environmental legal group ClientEarth filed a complaint against BP in December 2019 alleging greenwashing. Apparently, BP launched a sustainability-focused advertising campaign giving the misleading impression that it’s investing heavily in renewable energy. In reality, 96% of the company’s annual capital spending is on gas and oil, which is fuelling the climate crisis, with less than 4% spent on low-carbon initiatives.
Shell, which is the world’s seventh-largest emitter, declared its commitment to ‘natural ecosystems’ in April 2019 as part of an effort to tackle climate change. They also made a questionable claim of using ‘100% renewable electricity’, followed, however, by a $25bn investment in non-renewable oil and gas energy sources in 2018. They, like BP, contradict the image they promote of reducing carbon emissions by continuing to mine and burn fossil fuels — something that Shell executives publicly admitted to knowing decades ago it would cause global warming — while engaging in green initiatives with no significant impact.
Hate to break it to you, but Zara’s JOIN LIFE line is not enough to improve the brand’s sustainable image. With 500 new designs released weekly, Zara’s entire business model goes against all sustainable values. One small eco-friendly line simply cannot make up for the rest of their unsustainable products, the tremendous amount of energy used, and the waste it generates. Although Inditex‘s – Zara’s corporate parent – sustainability strategy is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t mention improving the working conditions of Zara’s numerous factory workers.
When a brand’s employee works 10-hour days, six days a week, is literally timed to finish one shirt in 38 minutes and gets paid less than $4 per day, you can rest assured that whatever sustainability campaign is launched is simply greenwashing.
To truly see the difference between green and greenwashing, we should all, as customers, be able to tell when brands are using misleading tactics to pass off as sustainable clothing lines.
If you’re uncertain about a brand’s sustainable practices, do your own research and ask the right questions.
You may be surprised to find out that some ‘green fashion’ retailers aren’t, in fact, green at all.
When you fish those brands out, remember to call them out to enlighten their unsuspecting eco-conscious consumers.
Raising public awareness about the dangers of the fast fashion industry on the environment is key to identifying when we’re being greenwashed.
After all, there are many genuinely sustainable businesses out there that deserve our support and admiration so much more. The choice not to fall victims to deception is ours — and so is to start a change that will benefit us all.
So choose to be part of the solution, not the problem.
At WILD FABRIK, we believe that fashion is a universal language through which we communicate who we are and what we stand for. With our blog entries, we aim to provide you an elegant guide to a sustainable lifestyle, packed with our experience, knowledge, and continuous research on sustainability matters. Driven by our passion for all things green, we hope to inspire you to be your own label and make conscious choices that look — and feel —good.
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