What is greenwashing? If the term greenwashing is new to you it might sound a little confusing. Let’s break it down. Greenwashing is when a company markets itself as environmentally conscious when in reality they are not taking all of the steps needed to be fully sustainable. Essentially, greenwashing is a company lying about the “green” -ness of a brand or product. Simple enough right? Now that you know the phrase “greenwashing”, here are some tips to identify when a company might be greenwashing.
The “Eco Friendly” line
Probably the biggest and most obvious red flag I tend to see in brands is an “Eco Friendly” product line. By calling a specific line “Eco Friendly” you are inherently calling yourself out for your other lines not being “Eco Friendly”. Corporations are using the term “Eco Friendly” to increase sales and trust in their brand without taking any real steps towards sustainability. H&M is a great example of this. H&M has been called out repeatedly for being a leader in the fast fashion industry. As a result, H&M was forced to take a stance on fast fashion in order to keep their tycoon status. However, instead of making true change the organization masks itself (very poorly) behind a “conscious” line, recycling bins in their stores, and a page on sustainability on their website; including a post titled “Let’s Be Fair”. When in reality, H&M owes billions of dollars to factory workers in the last year alone (Grant). And on January 5th, 2021, H&M factory worker, Jeyasre Kathiravel was found murdered by her supervisor after months of harassment which was reported but no action was ever taken (Kelly). Sustainable clothing lines are the perfect disguise for brands who do not truly care about their corporation’s environmental impacts.
Lack of Transparency
If a company makes a vague statement about being sustainable without ever stating the steps they are taking or any data as proof, they are greenwashing. This statement is especially applicable to larger companies as small businesses do not always have the means to receive accreditation but are inherently more sustainable because of the small scale of waste and carbon emissions. But if a large company such as Gucci sponsors amazing programs for changemakers with the foundation Gucci Equilibrium but still pays under livable wage to factory workers in Italy and uses exotic animal skin (TFL). By not being transparent about the manufacturing process Gucci is guilty of greenwashing.
Micro seasons are huge in the fashion industry with some companies releasing up to 52 lines every year. This promotion overconsumption, always catching up to trends can never be sustainable. A large brand that is a leader in sustainability is Patagonia. Patagonia not only gives back 1% to the planet, uses renewable energy for manufacturing, is transparent about the supply chain, regularly posts articles on world issues (the list goes on) but they host a repair program within their warranty in which at a low cost you can send your Patagonia clothing to have it repaired and returned to you. Ensuring that you get the most out of your clothing. Just imagine if all fashion brands operated this way! The clear skies!
So-called sustainable brands that over the package and use plastic packaging are, unfortunately, not uncommon. And there is nothing more frustrating than to find a great sustainable item and have it arrive at your home covered in plastic. My suggestion? Let them know. If a sustainable brand, especially a larger brand, is using harmful packaging products and receives complaints, most likely, they will change. The fact is, they need you to keep purchasing! You are their boss!
RED FLAG! If a company declares itself sustainable but has not disclosed manufacturing locations or manufactures in countries that are high risk for human right violations they are greenwashing. Sustainability is a complete circle and if ethical manufacturing is missing from the circle then the whole system is broken. In order to ensure sustainability, we must ensure the safety of everyone involved in the process.
So get out there! Check out your favorite “green” brands to see how “green they really are! And if you find a brand that is being authentic in its environmental efforts feel free to drop their link in the comments!
Acaroglu, Leyla. “What is Greenwashing? How to Spot It and Stop It.” Disruptive Design, 2019. medium.com, https://medium.com/disruptive-design/what-is-greenwashing-how-to-spot-it-and-stop-it-c44f3d130d5. Accessed 26 01 2021.
Corcione, Adryan. “What is Greenwashing?” Business News Daily, 17 01 2020, https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/10946-greenwashing.html. Accessed 26 01 2021.
Grant, Katie. “Primark, H&M and Nike are under pressure to ensure workers are paid after ‘canceling orders during a pandemic.’” I News, 16 November 2020, https://inews.co.uk/news/consumer/primark-hm-nike-clothes-factory-workers-supply-chains-wages-clean-clothes-campaign-761480. Accessed 08 February 2021.
Kelly, Annie. “Worker at H&M supply factory was killed after months of harassment, claims family.” The Guardian, 01 February 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/01/worker-at-hm-supply-factory-was-killed-after-months-of-harassment-claims-family. Accessed 08 February 2021.
Ramaniah, Zara. “H&M’s Greenwashing: Short-Sighted and Unethical.” Brandingmag.com, 12 12 2019, https://www.brandingmag.com/2019/12/12/hms-greenwashing-short-sighted-and-unethical/. Accessed 26 01 2021.
TFL. “Luxury Fashion Brands and their "Made in Italy" Accessories at the Center of Sweatshop Scandal in Naples.” The Fashion Law, 19 November 2019, https://www.thefashionlaw.com/luxury-fashion-brands-and-their-made-in-italy-accessories-at-the-center-of-sweatshop-scandal-in-naples/.