Chasing Green: What is 'greenwashing' and how to sleuth it out like a pro!
By our lovely intern Alexia Antoniadis
‘Greenwashing’. It’s not what we play golf on; and it definitely is not when we accidentally throw a green shirt in the wash with our whites and they turn green.
Coined by an environmentalist named Jay Westervelt, who we accredit for the boundless pun potential afforded to us while writing this piece; the term, ’Greenwashing’, is when a business is more concerned with marketing themselves as sustainable than they are with actually being sustainable.
Remember when 2012 was ‘the future’? Well it’s 2021 for crying out loud, and people are more aware than ever before when it comes to the decisions they make. The google search term ‘veganism’ has increased by 580 per cent over the last five years and the global ethical fashion market has grown at a rate of 8.7% since 2015. In a study conducted by the Business Research Company in 2020, around 66% of respondents said that they consider sustainability when purchasing a luxury product. According to Lyst, there has been “a 37% increase in searches for sustainability-related keywords, with the average monthly searches increasing from 27,000 in 2019 to over 32,000 year to date”
LIVEKINDLY reports that “Nearly half of fast fashion retailers have seen a decrease in sales this year”.
Marketing teams are scrambling faster than a pair of eggs on a Sunday morning to piece together as many campaigns as possible to make themselves seem as sustainable as possible, capitalising on the trend and thereby maximising profit.
So how to spot a greenwasher? We thought you’d never ask.
If a label offers only a specific range or collection of items which claim to be sustainably produced, while at the same time generating profit from other items which are not produced sustainably, we recommend you start asking them questions to better determine what their values are as a brand. It is important to note here however that the most telling sign of a company that employs greenwashing tactics is a lack of transparency. Not every brand has the capacity to be 100% ethical and sustainable right off the bat, and that’s okay. It takes a lot of time, effort and may even result in some loss of profit, to transform a production line from start to finish. A company who is honest about this, and discloses which parts of their production are sustainable and which ones aren’t, is one you can trust.
Another thing to watch out for is the claim that items are made from recycled materials.
The problem with this one is that, unless the brand offers comprehensive proof of these claims, such as statistics or photos, there is really no way at all of telling what percentage of the material is in fact, recycled.
Watch out for brands who make grandiose statements claiming to be “saving the planet”, as most genuinely sustainable brands do not take every opportunity to tell you how they are saving the planet, instead they show you.
Words like ‘eco-safe’ or ‘sustainable’ are currently not defined by law, which is great for fashion labels because it means they can market themselves silly!
You can also have a look out for whether or not a brand’s claims are backed by certifications, like Fair Trade. If you are looking to play it safe and make sure your money is going towards supporting a label who is the real deal when it comes to all-round sustainability; look for brands who aren’t hopping on a trend, but have been sustainable from the beginning, are conscious of, and strive for environmental and social sustainability in every aspect of their production from start to finish.
Production is a long and intricate process, from design, to shipping and manufacturing, to packaging, a good brand will be able to walk you through the whole journey with transparency. First is pre-production, where garments are designed, then fabric must be sourced, and production planned. Next, the garments are cut up like a mango cheek on a hot day, some newer brands even employ the use of laser cutting technology, to minimise waste and maximise productivity. After manufacturing is finished, quality control is undergone, and all this before the garments have even been packaged and delivered. So you see how it is quite a task to ensure full sustainability through every phase. Just remember, the existence of certain elements of unsustainability does not a greenwasher make, lying about said elements on the other hand, does!
Check out a brand’s website or social media, and keep an eye out for their mission or vision statement, these will give you an idea of what the brand’s goals and values are, so you can know what to look out for, and see if they back it up. If a company has no evidence of any kind to support their mission or vision statement, or advertising campaigns which claim to be sustainable, it is likely they might be engaging in greenwashing.
So, as you set sail into the often opaque world of fashion, in search of something that looks just as good on you as it does on the planet; keep your eyes peeled for sneaky greenwashers!
At The Social Outfit, we try to be as transparent, ethical and sustainable as we can! Running an organisation that puts the people & the planet before profits isn't easy - that's why we're calling on amazing individuals like you to help us Wear The Change! Interested? Click here to find out more.