Sustainability is the buzzword of the decade. Although fashion brands are taking big steps towards a more conscious world, sustainability is in danger of losing its true meaning. It is so overused that we needed to come up with a word for exploitation for marketing purposes.
Greenwashing refers to a company’s claims of being sustainable to attract more customers, when they are not in fact sustainable. As consumers, we see this buzzword word so often that we are immune to it. We assume all who claim to be sustainable actually are, which is usually not the case. Sustainability is a holistic approach that covers many angles: economic, ecological, social and human. Covering only one part of the spectrum is not enough to call oneself sustainable.
TerraChoice has conducted a study to detect the most commonly used ways of greenwashing. They called it Seven Sins of Greenwashing:
- Hidden trade-off: Sometimes when a company focuses on one aspect of sustainability they end up causing harm from another angle. For example, the ease of returns helps decrease the number of unwanted items but increases the carbon footprint because the items travel twice.
- Lack of certifications or other proofs: It is very common to claim to be sustainable with false information. Most sustainable brands are willing to prove it. Aim to check if they have any certificates or statistics to prove their claim.
- Vagueness: If a brand is using imprecise wording that creates ambiguity it is likely to be greenwashing. The best example can be ‘natural’, as it is a word most people suppose to comply with eco-sustainability, yet is not green.
- Irrelevance: If a claim is irrelevant, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is false, but it could to the service or product. The easiest example is the CFC-free label, which is already banned by authorities.
- Lesser of two evils: Sustainability is a wide term. Many brands who call themselves eco-friendly (possibly most of them), neglect the fact that sustainability should be exercised in the whole process, not just in one part. For example, eliminating plastic in the packaging, although it is a positive step, while still mass-producing insane amounts of clothing isn’t quite ethical, is it?
- Fibbing: Simply false claims.
- Worshipping false labels: Claims that can be misleading to the customers. Paid testimonials or awards can be great examples of this sin.
While we subconsciously scroll down and double-tap every time we see a fashion brand saying ‘we use organic cotton’ or ‘we are eco-friendly’, do we really care if their claim is true? We forget the fact that everyone can claim to be sustainable, if no one checks. They can even be separating their trash and call themselves an ‘eco-friendly company’ or similarly use recycled materials but produce way too much.
Take Everlane for example. The brand which is almost identified with sustainable fashion is a great example of greenwashing. While they took advantage of their recognition as a transparent brand, they neglected the social side of sustainability. Horrible treatment and racial discrimination issues recently came up as former employees confessed to being treated badly because of their skin colour.
When we talk about sustainability, social and economic inequality is often neglected despite having big importance. There is a massive gap between those who purchase too recklessly and too often. Osman Yousefzhade, a fashion designer living in the UK, has recently published a video in which he travelled to Bangladesh, a popular manufacturing country for fast fashion companies. He interviewed seamstresses and asked whom they think they are creating for. Their answer reveals the inequality with clarity: the seamstresses believed the women who wore their clothes were ‘not like them’. They believed these women are blonde and tall and wear a piece of clothing only for 2 weeks, or sometimes for once.
So, is it really harmless to buy pieces made in eco-conscious terms, even if we keep producing and buying so often?
In such economic and social inequality, can companies call themselves sustainable just because they are using less water?
Every move towards a more conscious industry is valuable and necessary. But we should not forget that sustainability does not equal recycled materials, although it is an important part of it. It is much more than that. Don’t be fooled by the brands which include ‘Eco-friendly’ lines in their ever-changing and mass produced collections.
So, for those who actually want to do something for the environment and society, rather than just delusionally feeling good about themselves for being ‘conscious’, what is the way to make sure we are not greenwashed?
- Check the materials used. Remember, natural doesn’t mean eco-friendly, and vegan doesn’t mean necessarily sustainable.
- Look for the CSR section on the company’s website.
- Trust the magic of numbers: If a company is eco-friendly, they will be able to prove it with numbers.
- Check the company’s certificates.
- Make use of third-party sources. Check Fashion Transparency Index by Fashion Revolution (a not-for-profit global movement founded by Orsola De Castro), or Good On You for reliable information about brands and their practices.
Greenwashing, an issue as dangerous as pollution, is also a sneaky one. Spotting greenwashing can be tricky, but it is definitely worth it. If you really do care about creating a better future, be aware of greenwashing and spread the word. Remember, sustainability is a holistic approach and should be covered from all angles, not just one. Because we owe it to the world and the people surrounding us.