Greenwashing is where a company portrays their products or services as sustainable and environmentally friendly solely for the purpose of PR and marketing. Greenwashing involves unsubstantiated and misleading claims about the ethics related to their brand and products. It involves a bias presentation of the facts in order to convince the consumer they are environmentally friendly, when in fact, they are not.
Greenwashing exists because there is a huge amount that a brand needs to do to actually be considered green and eco-friendly. This not only involves using sustainable, renewable and recyclable raw materials but also who made the clothes? How they were treated? Is the packaging and shipping sustainable? What were the clothes dyed with and was the process handled responsibly? Are they using carbon offsetting to offset and environmental impact they’re having that’s seemingly unavoidable?
At the end of the day there’s one reason that stands out as to why these “committed” and “conscious” collections will never work: The amount of garments they produce is obscene and could never be considered sustainable. We are currently producing 80 BILLION pieces of clothing per year, which is 400% more than the amount we consumed two decades ago. (source: True Cost Documentary)
Greenwashing exists because there is a huge amount that a brand needs to do to actually be considered green and eco-friendly. Is the delivery offset? How and who made this? What are the ingredients used? Is the packaging sustainable?
There are a few useful tools that I personally use when I’m in the market to buy something new, which these days is rarely:
1) Go through the check list above and make sure you can answer all those questions about a brand before you buy.
2) What kind of fabrics/materials/chemicals are they using and where do they source them from?
3) Do they have certifications or a transparency statement on their website?
4) Do they pay their workforce a fair wage and what are the working conditions?
As consumer demand for sustainability increases and some companies are genuinely dedicating time and money to creating a greener and more equal global economy, being able to spot greenwashing is becoming increasingly important. Futuerra’s 2015 Selling Sustainability Report provides 10 basic rules for identifying (as a consumer) and avoiding (as a producer) Greenwashing.
It’s a lot cheaper to invest money into an advertising campaign for your new “ethical” range than it is to actually do things properly, which includes paying your workers a fair wage and offsetting your carbon footprint as well as just making the garments out of recycled materials.
I think the problem is that for us humans, whilst we’re trying to do our bit for the environment we’re also wired to naturally take the path of least resistance. So whilst we might be wandering down Oxford Street with good intentions to avoid shopping, we see something nice in the window of a shop that has a “conscious collection” label on it we’re likely to quickly justify that it’s fine to buy, rather than confronting the real truths.