Greenwashing In The Fashion Industry

green clothes
Anna Boyne

Green, eco-conscious, responsible, environmentally friendly, sustainable: these are all buzzwords used by companies to sell products which supposedly have a reduced impact on the climate. The problem, however, is that too often these words are meaningless. This is known as greenwashing– ‘the practise of falsely promoting an organisation’s environmental efforts.’ Anna delves more into what this means.

But what is there to gain from deliberately misleading consumers?

Increasingly, the market for environmentally friendly products is growing. This provides opportunity for bigger profit margins and improving brand image. A SurveyMonkey study showed that ‘more than a third of respondents (35%) would buy a product that’s better for the environment over another that’s slightly cheaper’. Companies are able to convince consumers that by spending slightly more, they are helping to do their bit in tackling the climate crisis.

Of course, products which are better for the environment often are more expensive to produce and thus have a higher price point- this is especially true for the fashion industry. The problem comes when companies are deliberately misleading, using vague information and making unquantifiable claims.

it seems contradictory to promote recycling clothes while encouraging the next shopping spree

This sense of confusion over what is actually environmentally friendly or not can have a detrimental impact on brands which do truly care. The price point of a sustainable item of clothing might seem ridiculous compared to a fast fashion brand. The latter might be able to win over the consumer’s conscience with phrases like ‘partially recycled materials’ and ‘responsibly made’.

An example of a brand exploiting the increased demand for environmentally friendly products is H&M. Their clothes recycling program offers money off a consumer’s next in-store purchase for every bag of textiles dropped off. In reality, only a small portion of textiles can be recycled, and this is a very resource-intensive process. It seems contradictory to promote recycling clothes while encouraging the next shopping spree.

In 2019, H&M also launched their ‘Conscious Collection’. Using colours, symbols and statements, they promoted apparently environmentally friendly materials such as organic cotton and recycled polyester. However, the claims were so wildly inaccurate that they breached Norwegian marketing laws.

Similarly, Primark are able to sell mass-produced clothing at very low prices due to its employment of workers in extremely poor countries. There have been many cases of child and forced labour in dangerous conditions.

the key to tackling greenwashing is awareness of when brands are actually as sustainable as they claim

It’s also worth mentioning that the cheap price point of these brands makes fashion much more accessible to those of lower incomes. The key to tackling greenwashing is awareness of when brands are actually as sustainable as they claim. This would allow consumers to make informed decisions about their shopping if they have to means to support more environmentally friendly brands.

The app Good On You is a fantastic resource for this. Using a five-point system, it takes into account more than fifty different certification schemes and standards. You can find out if a brand really is all it claims to be with just the click of a few buttons rather than hours of research yourself. 

So next time you see a company declaring its devotion to tackling climate change, hopefully you’ll see through the empty buzzwords. There are so many brands out there who don’t see the environment as a mere marketing tool and instead want to make a real difference.

Anna Boyne

Featured image courtesy of Keagan Henman via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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