The term ‘greenwashing’ is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as:
“behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”.
It is when brands or businesses make unsubstantiated claims about the sustainability or ethicality of their products or supply chain, often using buzzwords such as ‘organic’ or ‘vegan’ and green/neutral colour themes as a mere marketing ploy.
Greenwashing takes advantage of well-intentioned customers, manipulating them into believing that a brand or company as a whole is ethically and environmentally responsible, when in actuality its practices elsewhere are contributing to the climate crisis. Unfortunately, many brands greenwash their customers unintentionally as a result of a lack of knowledge about the environmental impact of certain materials. For example, clothing made from 100% cotton is often assumed to be sustainable, but on the contrary, producing just one cotton t-shirt requires 2700 litres of water.
Fast fashion brands in particular are increasingly greenwashing consumers by introducing sustainable or ‘conscious’ clothing ranges. While this may well sound eco-friendly, fast fashion brands can never be truly sustainable due to the vast quantity of clothing they churn out every day. There is currently enough clothing on the planet to dress 6 generations, and the introduction of new pieces, whether ‘sustainable’ or not, is a huge problem in itself. Moreover, regardless of the material or design, any product that is shipped internationally from China (as is usually the case in the fast fashion world) cannot be described as sustainable due to its contribution to environmental pollution.
Customers will naturally believe claims that brands make about the sustainability of their products, which makes it difficult to spot greenwashing. One way of checking a brand’s environmental impact is using the ‘Good on You – Ethical Fashion’ app, which rates different brands based on how ethical its labour practices are through to the sustainability of its products. Another useful tool is the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index 2020, available online, which ranks 250 major fashion brands based on the social and environmental impact of their policies and practices.
We can continue to demand that governments better regulate what brands can and cannot claim about the sustainability or their products but, until this regulation is brought into effect, we must continue to make environmentally conscious and sustainable consumer choices if we want to protect our planet.