Greenwashing. This term is one that most people have heard of but might not know exactly what it is, and the sad thing is that it shouldn’t even exist. Greenwashing is defined as ‘ ...misleading the public to believe that a company or other entity is doing more to protect the environment than it is,' (United Nations, 2023). This isn’t talking about the everyday person or your small local businesses but big companies and governmental bodies, the people who could make a significant difference with the actions that they take.
Why should you care about greenwashing?
Companies that greenwash distract from actual climate and sustainable action being taken. As consumers we should be able to gain transparency from the companies we are buying from. When it says that a product is ‘eco-friendly’ we shouldn’t have to do research to figure out if it’s true or not.
Also how are consumers able to make informed decisions about the items we are buying if the corporations we are buying from are trying to trick us? Consumers are not the ones who should be responsible for fixing climate issues and pollution especially if the market is not providing viable solutions to help aide our efforts. Now this is not me saying that consumers shouldn’t recycle or buy responsibly it’s just me merely pointing out why greenwashing is an issue and that the actions of one isn’t going to mitigate the impact big corporations make- we should be fighting for transparency, honesty, and action from the biggest polluters out there.
But brands are trying to make a difference… aren’t they?
It may seem that a lot of big fashion corporations are trying to change their business structure to include sustainable goals and may even have a ‘sustainable’ collection, but this unfortunately is greenwashing at its finest. Greenpeace (Abelvik-Lawson, 2023) highlighted last year (2023) that top brands’ ‘sustainable’ collections such as H&M Conscious, Mango Committed, Primark Cares and Zara Join Life are nothing of the sort and nothing more than a marketing scheme to keep consumers buying into the fast fashion chains.
When you have conscious consumers but greedy shareholders the easiest way to guarantee these conscious consumers won’t turn sour is to create a ‘conscious’ collection but that doesn’t mean you have to actually make it conscious. Some cheap marketing and labels are enough to satisfy. This is one of the biggest tactic fast fashion brands use- no actual work or expense is taken by the companies.
Brands can’t be sustainable when they are producing a copious amount of clothing. One of the main ways to help prevent the impact of fashion is to slow down the production of it- change the model to a made to order and slow fashion instead of fast fashion model that just pumps out cheap polyester clothing fast. Fast fashion can never be sustainable.
What can I do as a consumer?
You shouldn’t have to but unfortunately to understanding how pesky companies use greenwashing tactics as well as learning common tactics that they use will go a long way. One common tactic is companies pushing the issue onto consumers- ‘You have to recycle,’ and ‘You are using too much energy!’ but why are these companies not providing recycling stations or providing a sustainable packaging solution themselves? If all the solutions a company is giving are pushed on the consumer with seemingly no introspection on their own company practises, then they probably aren’t a good company. This leads me onto my next point…
- Is the company being honest and transparent?
This is difficult as large companies are very good at hiding all the negative stuff that they partake in. A way to help gauge if a company is being transparent and honest is what they present to consumers- do they have sustainable criteria that they are trying to meet with quantifiable goals? Or is it just bold statements with no data to back up their efforts?
- Spend differently-
Support local small businesses instead of huge corporations. Do some research into companies to see which ones are actually trying to make a difference.
Understand the fabrics that you buy and the impact that they can have. For example, polyester may be cheap but can create a multitude of issues such as microfibre shredding when washed. Look for natural fabrics and certifications such as fairtrade.
Buy investment pieces instead of cheap. Consumers can help reduce the impact of fast fashion by investing in pieces of clothing instead of just buying a lot of cheap clothing. Buying cheap is not the best if you want to consider the impact your purchases are having. If the price seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Who is making your clothes? Are they being paid fairly or have safe conditions? If it’s cheaper than chips, then it’s likely to be coming out of the workers’ paychecks. Also cheap is quite often poor quality- you pay for what you get. This is not me saying consumers such be paying the earth for everyday essentials but try and think of the lifecycle of your clothes. How long will it last? And when it does fall apart where will it end up? Landfill? If it’s plastic based materials how long will it take to breakdown? And when it does is it going to be creating more pollution such as microplastics? It is better to invest in statement pieces that are good quality such as a couple of pairs of organic cotton jeans that are good quality but could be paired with any top.
Greenwashing is a tricky issue as consumers should not be down to them to navigate through lies to get a good quality product that is good for the planet and the workers who make it especially if climate change is an important issue to you. Corporations should be meet the promises that they are making. Unfortunately, these companies will keep any structure that is bringing in money. At the end of the day the only way to hopefully get action from these corporations is if consumers stop paying for goods from dishonest greenwashing fast fashion brands.
- United Nations. (2023) Greenwashing – the deceptive tactics behind environmental claims. At: https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/climate-issues/greenwashing#:~:text=By%20misleading%20the%20public%20to,some%20more%20obvious%20than%20others. (Accessed 29 December 2023)
- Abelvik-Lawson, H. (2023) Fashion greenwash: how companies are hiding the true environmental costs of fast fashion. At: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/fashion-greenwash-report-companies-hiding-true-environmental-costs-fast-fashion/ (Accessed 29 December 2023)