Greenwashing, coined in 1986 by New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt, is a marketing strategy that deceives the consumer into believing that the products, aims, and policies of an organization are environmentally friendly. Greenwashing can range from harmless to heinous. From referencing nature in a product's name or label to portraying highly polluting energy companies as eco-friendly. Nearly 60% of all environmental claims made fall short of the FTC's green guidelines.
"7 Sins of Greenwashing"
1. Hidden Trade-off: a claim that a product is "green" based on an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other significant environmental issues.
Last year, Asos launched a new "Circular Collection". It was said to be rooted in the three foundations of the circular economy. These principles are defined by environmental charity the Ellen McArthur Foundation as design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. Using those foundations as a guide, the brand then created eight principles of its own. To be considered "circular" each piece within the collection had to meet only two out of the eight principles. That is not how circularity works.
2. No Proof: a claim unsubstantiated by a reliable third-party certification or easily accessible information. Without third-party verification, you can make whatever claims you want, and no one will know any better.
Example: Amour Vert
Amour Vert, a beloved San Francisco brand, claims "97% of our products are made in California.” Unfortunately, the brand is unable to trace (or is unwilling to share) the journey its products take through the supply chain.
The brand markets its clothing as ethically made, eco-friendly, and radically transparent, but this brand is hiding a lot. Most of Everlane’s products don’t have third-party certifications for their fabrics and dyes. Plus, they don’t have any company-wide certifications either.
3. Vagueness: a claim so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.
In 2010, ASOS introduced a collection called the ‘Responsible Edit’—a selection of clothing, accessories, and beauty products marketed for a lower environmental impact. However, 48% of that line was found to contain synthetics.
4. Worshiping False Labels: a claim that, through words or images, gives the impression of a third-party endorsement where none exists.
The term “all-natural” actually means nothing, and no law says that a product with a tree or leaf on its label has to be sustainable in any way. Dig deeper with databases dedicated to sustainable brands.
5. Irrelevance: a claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful to consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.
Boohoo launched its first recycled range using 95% recycled polyester. However, a group of experts concluded that since the mix contains 5% elastin, the garments cannot, themselves, be recycled. They questioned whether the range would make much of a difference.
6. Lesser of Two Evils: a claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting consumers from the more significant environmental impact of the category as a whole.
F21 sent out a press release about using solar panels at its company headquarters in California. Although factual, it does not negate that most of the clothing made by Forever21 comes from polyester (a petroleum product) in overseas factories.
7. Fibbing: a simply false claim.
The Conscious Collection, a clothing line within the brand, claims to be made of sustainably sourced materials and features in-store recycle bins. That is likely to happen with less than 1% of the clothes collected. Over 99% will end up in a landfill, or incinerated.
How to avoid the hype
Unsurprisingly, researchers note that companies avoid the negative connotations and perceptions of greenwashing by ‘walking the walk’.
Find out who is making your clothes
If we want an ethical fashion industry, transparency is key. No longer do we accept opaque supply chains. We want to know who made our clothes, in what countries, even down to which factories. If you can't find this information on their website, email them. Demand brands reveal the source of their products. Ask brands if their workers are safe, ensuring suppliers have a strong code of conduct and factories are audited. Ask brands what they are doing to empower workers. Our voices really do count, and it is such a small action.
Check for certifications
The more you can learn about how and where materials are sourced, the more informed you can be on how sustainable they are and any potential trade-offs. Look for figures that support their claims.
Invest in brands with a holistic approach
Leading companies consider sustainability at every point of production and integrate it from their designs, to manufacturing, shipping, sales, and headquarters.
At RAANU there is no hype. You have a direct line to the person creating your wardrobe, and I am excited to share every piece of the process with you. Soon, you will be able to track the journey of your garment from the yarn source to the shipping method, and you can trust that the information is reliable. I may not be able to afford costly certifications, but the choices I make outside of my business reflect my commitment and integrity, from the tiny house to the organic food I grow. Because for me, sustainability is not just a marketing buzzword it's a lifestyle.