What is Greenwashing and Why Shopping Independent is Better

By Charlotte Delacour, Contributor

It will not have slipped your mind that the fashion industry is not spared by a false green wave - green colour, so-called eco-labels, sustainable claims, storytelling for the sake of transparency- in other words, by greenwashing.

To a certain extent, greenwashing is the consequence of a sad reality: ourselves as consumers with our desires of transparency and looking for greener -more organic, more sustainable, more ethical- goods. As a marketing ploy, greenwashing is launched by brands or companies to answer these new expectations. However, behind their efforts to appear as environmental activists, if we are a bit curious, there are always elements -or not- that prove that consumers are misled by lies and skewed information. 

Let us see how we can spot greenwashing signs in order to oppose fashion marketing plans and prove to companies that our desires do not make us blind. 

Vagueness and lack of evidence
First of all, the easiest element to identify greenwashing is when there are beautiful, common, and vague sentences about how the brand is becoming eco-friendly but there are no proofs at all on their website or no available link to know more about their new behaviour.

Fast fashion paradoxes
Other obvious signs are related to fast fashion brands and their paradoxes. We can truly call into question their “conscious” and “green” collection when, for instance, you have the opportunity to get a discount if you give your old clothes to be recycled when you should know that a lot of clothes are not recyclable and even less those sold by these brands. Or, when we know that these brands work only with overseas subcontractors whose employees are under dubious working conditions. In these kinds of cases, their only sustainable element is probably the paper bag they give when you purchase an item from them.

False labels
Pay attention to false labels or certifications that are adopting similar shapes, colours, typography, and symbols as the real ones, but they are devoid of meaning. Nevertheless, we are aware of the multitude of official eco-labels and certifications that can be a bit confusing. For instance, you can find a label focused on ecological manufacturing but on the other hand, it does not ensure the whole sustainable life cycle of the product. So, according to your requirements, the best thing to do is to take a bit of your personal time to check them and avoid pitfalls. 
The hidden part of the iceberg
Among “greenwashing sins” as it is commonly said, there is a tricky one that can even concern the most credible sustainable brands. This sin is the hidden part of the iceberg. The environmental activism claimed by brands on their websites can be betrayed by their annual reports in which the announced green efforts are not balanced by figures for greenhouse gas emitted, energy consumption, or the mention of chemical products for instance. Of course, this hidden part of the trade is more difficult to spot as these companies give to consumers a lot of information to avoid greenwashing doubts. However, the more skeptical you are, the more chance you will have to discover the truth.

After these tips to spot greenwashing, we exactly know the kind of thoughts that rush through your mind. We know you are willing to change your consumption habits but to do so, you have to say goodbye to some of your favourite brands (and we understand that, at first, it is heartbreaking). We know although you agree to give up on these brands, your budget is still the same face to sustainable fashion products which are often, for now, more expensive (and then you think, do you want me to stop buying clothes? Our answer: of course not, look at our designers!). We know fighting against greenwashing is time-consuming because you must lead your own investigations to be sure about the brand’s claims. In this sense, it requires a lot of motivation and it reduces your spontaneity of buying and the pleasure it brings. (Sorry for being killjoy).  

These thoughts are understandable but must not make us bend in the face of greenwashing and question our convictions by leading to this dilemma: is it better to follow a brand with a new sustainable ethic which is probably a greenwashing strategy or keep consuming brands that are doing nothing to improve their environmental impact? We are not blind and naive but, in both cases, we feel trapped. 

Thus, we are facing a growing phenomenon based on opportunism to answer supply and demand logic to satisfy consumers' expectations. However, consumers have more and more knowledge and means to access the truth and are aware that greenwashing is in fashion industry and everywhere else. Therefore, the real problem is not so much that we are taken for idiots, but rather that it is a real threat for every reliable and sustainable brand that is continuously entering the fashion market and may quickly disappear because of our fear about an umpteenth greenwashing attempt.

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