The fashion industry is increasingly being exposed for its role in perpetuating global climate change. It is the second-largest carbon-emitting industry in the world and is one of the largest water consumers and polluters. However, fast fashion companies are trying to mask their negative impact on the environment by using a marketing technique called greenwashing.
What is Greenwashing?
In the mid-1980s, environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing”, which refers to an attempt by a company to deliberately frame its products or practices as “green” in order to seem environmentally friendly and sustainable. Greenwashing does not take the form of a lie, rather it is a misrepresentation of the truth. A company may strategically focus on one small aspect of its practices that is considered “green” and use that as the basis for their entire marketing scheme, while simultaneously hiding the fact that everything else is not so environmentally friendly. This tricks the consumer into believing they are shopping sustainably when usually this isn’t the case.
Companies who use this tactic are essentially using climate change and sustainability as a marketing ploy, while not implementing meaningful change in their business. Greenwashing involves misleading the consumer into believing that certain products are more sustainable than they actually are.
Why Do Brands Greenwash?
The simple answer is that it’s trendy! The sustainability movement in fashion is largely driven by Millennial and Gen Z youth who are participating in initiatives to save the planet. Brands are trying to capitalize on this environmental movement, without taking meaningful actions to support it. Companies will make meaningless claims that are seemingly sustainable on the surface, in order to drive people to purchase their products.
Spotting Greenwashing in Fashion
Look Out for Vague Language
Vague language like “conscious” or “eco-friendly” are used as buzz words to attract consumers, but often these words have no meaning. It is used as a loose representation of the truth of a company’s practices. Companies who take sustainability seriously will provide the facts to support their claims. For instance, brands will have a whole section of their website dedicated to educating the consumer on the specifics of the steps they are taking to support the planet. Sustainable companies will usually provide statistics that support their initiatives. When you see these bold statements from brands, try doing some digging into the proof behind it.
Catch the Contradictions
More and more we are seeing brands switch towards more sustainable packaging for their products. While we hope this will be a standard across all companies one day, often this tactic is used to overshadow the negative practices that go on behind the scenes in making a product. Fast fashion brands need to address their carbon footprint by tackling the waste and emissions problems.
The Need for Transparency
A best practice for companies in any industry is to be transparent regarding their practices and products. Patagonia, for example, sets a good precedent for being honest on their brand’s sustainability shortcomings as well as their positive initiatives. The company provides their consumers with seasonal updates on their sustainability goals and are actively trying to improve the environmental impact of their business. Actions like this can help brands avoid the social media call-out when their marketing is not as accurate as it may seem. Brands must take accountability for their sustainability shortcomings and continuously work on eliminating their carbon footprint.
Sustainable brands will usually make note of their certifications that support what they are telling consumers. A certification shows that a company’s products and practices have been independently analyzed to judge the validity of the claims. Sustainable brands must uphold rigorous standards to achieve these environmental certifications. A common logo you will see in Canadian sustainable fashion is the Certified B Corporation logo, which essentially means a business met a strong set of standards for social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Companies with this certification are committed to reducing the negative impact of their practices on the environment. Frank and Oak, Kotn, and TenTree are some of Canada’s most notable B Corp certified clothing brands!
There is Hope for the Future
We are increasingly seeing consumers become more informed and aware of these shady actions from large fashion companies. People are looking intently at brands and their practices, thus giving sustainable companies a competitive advantage. Greenwashing only works when the consumer is unaware the corporation is doing so. With the rise of social media, companies are getting fact-checked and scrutinized more than ever.
If you are looking to support the environment, one of the best ways is to avoid excessive consumption, especially from fast fashion brands. However, if you are going to shop from these brands, it is always best to do so second-hand. Shopping second-hand keeps a clothing item from the landfills and gives it a new purpose.
Via ÀLA.HAUSSE’s Multi-functional and Multi-purposeful Fashion Ecosystem- BUY/SELL/RENT/LEND/ (swap BETA 2021) mobile application, INDIVIDUALS & brands ( BETA 2021) are encouraged to REBUY, RESELL, REUSE and UP-CYCLE their personal “Clossets” aka Clothing Assets, along with overstock inventory and samples. Through this consumerism habit shift we indirectly slow down the urgency on fashion’s carbon footprint, aiding sustainability as a whole.
#ALAHAUSSE #WEARYOURPURPOSE #HAUSSEPEOPLE
- Vries, Gerdien De, et al. “Sustainability or Profitability? How Communicated Motives for Environmental Policy Affect Public Perceptions of Corporate Greenwashing.” Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, vol. 22, no. 3, 2013, pp. 142–154., doi:10.1002/csr.1327.
Originally published at https://alahausse.ca on February 12, 2021.