The following article is a takeover prepared by Mariam Alzamel & Nahla Fardoun, students of the class « Sustainable Luxury »(part of the master « New Luxury & Art de Vivre » at Sciences Po, Paris / France) taught by UrbanMeister founder Mirela Orlovic. They share their views on how a future based on sustainability and circular economy after Covid19 will look like.
A lot of events have happened in the last few years that changed the world and, of course, had an impact on consumer behavior. One of the major trends that consumers are moving forward nowadays is sustainability and conscious consumerism. This is driving companies, brands, governments, and institutions to appear more environmentally friendly in their practices. In the US alone, the market for sustainable goods is projected to reach $150 billion in sales by 2021 according to Nielsen. However, the real question is, are they really being sustainable or is it just a marketing tactic to keep their business running? For the sake of this article, we will focus on greenwashing in the fashion industry by taking examples of brands who are committing this crime and other brands who are being truly transparent and sustainable.
First of all, what is greenwashing?
Greenwashing refers to when brands try to promote or spin themselves as environmentally friendly and make a lot of efforts to convince the public about this claim which in fact is not 100% true.
“Greenwashing is when a company or organization spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact.” Business News Daily
The origin of the word comes from Jay Westervelt who is a New York environmentalist that wrote an essay in 1986 and mentioned how the hotel industry is practicing greenwashing by telling there guests that they are re-using the hotel towels and thus they are eco-friendly which in fact they were doing many other activities that harm the environment and re-using the towel was never enough to compensate this harm.
In fashion, many brands are trying to greenwash the minds of their consumers by different campaigns and activities they do. As consumers are now more than ever aware of how the fashion industry is polluting the planet and how this is projecting on their health, they are demanding more and more sustainable garments. As a result, brands tend to use words like green, eco, transparent, and conscious to trick the consumers into buying.
For example, H&M have launched a line of so called “green” clothing in 2019 and named it “Conscious”. The brand said that the materials used to make the collection was “organic” cotton and recycled polyester. However, H&M brings out around 12 to 16 collections a year and if only one of them claims to be sustainable, which is also subject to a lot of criticism, this means that the brand have a long road to go. In addition to that, the brand doesn’t give any explanation whatsoever to the customers on how this particular collection uses “organic” cotton or what is organic cotton in H&M terms.
Now, how to spot greenwashing?
TIP NUMBER 1: Look for numbers
One of the ways to make sure that what the brands are claiming to be sustainable and environmentally friendly is actually true is by looking for figures and numbers. Thanks to what’s called “the internet” where we can instantly search the brand as well as the collection and read what is written about it online. If the brand is truly honest, they would share the numbers and figures on their website explaining what makes them sustainable.
One example of this is Veja where on their website they have a section explaining each and every step of their supply chain with clear numbers. They even break down all the material that make up a pair of shoes and precisely prove their origin.
TIP NUMBER 2: Watch out for words like “natural” and “vegan” which doesn’t always mean sustainable
We have seen in the example of H&M earlier that using words such as “conscious” and “green” doesn’t make the products sustainable and it is the same story for words like “vegan” and “natural”. Brands tend to use these words a lot to make the consumer believe that those products are good for the environment where in fact they aren’t. Bamboo for example is a natural material that brands use a lot, however the way this resource is being extracted matters a lot which sometimes can be very harmful to the environment.
Check this overview to discover more communication sins that are most likely hiding Greenwashing:
TIP NUMBER 3: Watch out for the people behind the the garments
Another way to make sure whether the brand is being transparent or not is by checking information about their suppliers. This is a common issue that brands fall for intentionally or unintentionally by not doing enough compliance about their suppliers. In 2018, Know The Chain found out that even luxury brands like Prada and Fendi were relying on forced labor in their factories. Thus, looking for suppliers’ information is very crucial and platforms like Fair Wear Foundation and Worker Rights Consortium provide consumers with data about brands through their investigations.
The bottom line:
Fashion brands are trying to find their place in the sustainability trend, some of them are succeeding in building an environmentally friendly business model, others are just trying to fake one.
As consumers, we have to be attentive to what brands are doing and not fall victims of greenwashing. And to be honest, now more than ever our role is important because after Covid-19 brands might claim more about being sustainable, but will they all be? It’s your job to find out.
However, on a more positive note, we are thankful to still have honest brands that are taking sustainability to another level like Stella Mccartney. This brand has been a leader and a trendsetter when it comes to sustainable fashion since its beginnings and is shining in the 3 pillars that make up sustainability: People, Planet, and Profit. It is definitely a brand to learn from! ?