Sustainable fashion: signs of greenwashing
by Sam Maas on Apr 12, 2021
As we stated earlier in our previous article, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, just behind the oil industry. Unfortunately, it is fast fashion in specific that contributes its fair share.
The problems of the fast fashion industry have become much clearer in recent years. Clothing is generally made at breakneck speed in the most extreme of circumstances.
Luckily the slow and sustainable fashion movement is on the rise. Enter: fair fashion. But, what does it mean to be sustainable as a clothing brand? To us it refers to clothing that is designed, manufactured, distributed and used in ways that are environmentally friendly.
Although many businesses claim to do so, reality shows otherwise. Sustainability is often used as a marketing strategy, however brands rarely do enough to back up their statements related to the topic. In doing so, they mislead consumers into buying their products.
The entire misuse and exploitation of the word sustainability is what we call greenwashing. But what is greenwashing really? And more importantly: what are the signs of greenwashing? Read along.
What is greenwashing?
Gone are the days of profit eclipsing all else. Sustainability is now high up the agenda. Businesses face increased pressure to go green. However, many companies don't want to put in the effort. Enter: greenwashing.
Greenwashing is pretending to be greener or more socially responsible than a company or organization actually is. One pretends to deal with the environment and/or other social issues in a well-considered way, while in fact they don’t.
Resulting in consumers being misled. Whether consciously or not. Not every organization that does greenwashing does so intentionally.
In many cases, they want to do something social, but do not realize that the core building blocks of the company must also be adjusted in order to be truly socially responsible.
For example, a company can support Unicef on the one hand and still produce goods using child labor on the other. Or a company may give money to an environmental organization while its core business is highly polluting.
Signs of greenwashing
In the past, big businesses have been able to get away with greenwashing because there has been limited understanding of what ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ means. So as a consumer, it is important to be informed. Here’s our list of some greenwashing-signs:
#1 Making environmental claims the company is already legally required to provide
A classic greenwashing tactic involves PR spin, which means that a company will advertise a product with environmental achievements that are already mandated by existing laws.
For example: a lot of companies claim to be CFC (chlorofluorocarbons) free – and it is a true claim, as CFC is banned by the government anyway. So it is a claim which is not really helpful.
The same goes for fashion brands that claim they don’t use carcinogenic amines, which makes them so-called sustainable. But guess what? A lot of these amines are in fact restricted by the government.
That means that they are obligated to make sure that they aren’t carcinogenic. Therefore, they aren’t making extra efforts to be sustainable. They merely meet the bare minimum.
#2 Lack of third party certifications or other credibility
In many cases, sustainable products or companies are labelled with certifications. Sustainability certifications are voluntary norms and standards relating to environmental, social and ethical issues. They also must be verified by a third-party, making them trustworthy.
There are over 400 such standards / certificates across the world. The most known sustainable certifications are FairTrade, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and BCI (Better Cotton Initiative).
A company that claims to be sustainable, without any supportive information or other credibility, means nothing really.
#3 Vague and misleading words
A lot of companies claim to be sustainable or eco-friendly, without clearly defining in which way they are by using fluffy language: words or terms with no clear meaning.
Some examples: ‘eco-friendly’, ‘pure’, ‘green’ and ‘honest’. Those words are bound to be misunderstood by customers. It is pure marketing. Such terms can be applied to any product, without the product being eco-friendly or pure at all.
For example, a company may claim it is natural and pure, but will not give the required details of what materials have been used in the production process.
Not revealing specifics is one of the most popular greenwashing strategies being used today.
Our tip: think twice when you see a product that claims to be green, honest or natural. If they can’t prove it, don’t believe it.
#4 Exaggerating and pulling out of context
Another greenwashing strategy is pulling things out of context and putting them in the wrong perspective. For example: one sells a product that is 1% made up of natural ingredients. The company markets their product as ‘natural’, while in fact the product is synthetic for 99%. Basically, this is pure framing.
#5 Sustainably composed, but not sustainably produced
A first step toward sustainability is to use low impact, recyclable materials and fabrics. However, a sustainable fashion brand also strives to minimize the amount of water and energy use from the manufacturing process. The same goes for providing optimal working conditions and a safe environment for employees.
As a company you can not claim to be sustainable, if you don’t make any efforts to lower your carbon footprint or to meet basic human needs. It is not enough to use eco-friendly materials. The company's core process must also be modified to be truly sustainable.
#6 Claiming credit for an existing production method for other purposes
Some companies dare to claim credit for a sustainable production method, as if they were influenced by an eco-friendly directive. When in truth, it’s not. We take for example the famous story Jay Westerveld.
The term “greenwashing” was in fact originally founded by Westerveld. In 1986 he wrote an essay in which he claimed a hotel where he was staying once, falsely promoted the reuse of towels as part of a broader environmental strategy.
Rather, the act was designed as a cost-saving measure. They were in the middle of expanding at the time, and were building more bungalows.
It’s clear the fashion industry has come a long way, and that we still have a long way to go. Being sustainable as a brand can be interpreted & achieved in so many different ways. It is therefore each and every brand’s responsibility to recognize where there is room for improvement, and to set up a tailored roadmap to achieve success on their journey to becoming sustainable.
Haze & Finn has set the ambitious goal of becoming fully sustainable by 2025. In defining what it is to be fully sustainable, we’ve created a sustainability wheel that consists of all aspects of the business we seek to become sustainable in.
Some we have already achieved, for others we have a long way to go. For each of those points, we have defined internal SMART goals and KPI’s that will not only clarify our goals, but will allow us to measure our success down the line. As much as we look forward to progressing and having you join us on our journey, we hope other brands do too. Only together will we be able to change the industry for good.
PS: Haze&Finn will soon launch its “1% for the Arctic” initiative, which means that 1% of all our online sales will go to an organization or individual committed to preserving the Arctic. Stay tuned!