Greenwashing is the term given to mainstream fashion brands that use the sustainable trend for their gain, and do not change their morals.
A brand may launch an eco-friendly or sustainable range when the brand itself is neither of these things.
Greenwashing can also involve brands making false claims about their sourcing and production methods or being vague with environmental facts.
There is no denying that sustainability is in fashion.
Whether you buy a bamboo toothbrush, reusable cotton pads or shampoo bars, we all seem to be getting a little more environmentally conscious.
Brands have noticed this and are attempting to appeal to this new and popular type of consumer.
How can I spot greenwashing?
According to greenqueen.com, some signs of greenwashing are:
- If a brand does not release concrete facts and figures with a new and sustainable collection
- When a brand creates a small number of sustainable items and promotes itself as a generally eco-friendly company, this is considered greenwashing as not all fo their products are sustainable.
- Sweeping statements are often made, such as “save the planet by buying these products” and tend to be overstatements.
- If a brand seems to be overplaying their ethical and environmental impacts, it could be their way of hiding the truth – such as they may prioritise environmentally friendly products but exploit their workers.
What does the public know about greenwashing?
To find out how much the public knows about greenwashing and how sustainable labelling influences their buying habits, Unsaid Digital conducted a survey.
80% of the responses were from females, and 20% were males.
All were between 19 and 25 years old. 60% had not heard of greenwashing before taking the survey – results seemed to indicate that consumers are unaware that brands are using sustainability to appeal to a trend, rather than be sustainable as a company.
However, 40% had heard of the term – which is still a large proportion, and perhaps this was due to the participants being young.
People are buying into products labelled as eco-friendly or sustainable, and people claimed this was because they are aware of the fashion industry’s negative impact on the environment, so if there were a sustainable option, most people would choose it over a product not branded as eco-friendly.
H&M, Shell, Topshop, Urban Outfitters and ASOS were the most mentioned brands when participants were asked to list any brands they have noticed jumping on the sustainability trend.
One participant commented “it feels like they all do it to some extent” and another said, “almost every mainstream brand has tried something”.
Results indicated that most people try to shop sustainably when they can.
70% said they sometimes try to do so, 20% claimed they rarely do, 10% claimed they do all the time, and no one said they never have. So, it is clear that sustainability is a trend many are buying into.
66.7% of participants said they own eco-friendly products, such as metal straws, reusable sanitary products, and plastic-free shampoo bars.
However, just one participant could name sustainable brands who do not greenwash, with another commenting they use charity shops as an alternative.
Those who do not own any eco-friendly products explained that this was too expensive and other aspects of green living, such as food and energy choices, were a higher priority.
Again, only one person claimed they knew how to avoid greenwashing, with 60% being uncertain and 30% having no idea how to do so.
Positively, 90% of participants said they would like advice on how to shop sustainably and avoid greenwashing, with just 10% not showing interest. Also, a staggering 60% considered avoiding greenwashing as highly important to them.
Can I shop 100% sustainably, avoiding greenwashing altogether?
Our technology-led society can be especially difficult to be entirely sustainable, as energy usage has a huge effect on our carbon footprint.
The easiest way to reduce this is switch off all electricals, rather than leaving them on standby.
Another factor is our diet – reducing or not eating any meat can also help reduce your carbon footprint.
In terms of shopping, it is important to look for evidence that the brand itself is sustainable – if they are, this information should be incredibly clear on their website and social media platforms.
It is also essential to remember that 100% natural does not always mean a product is cruelty-free – keep an eye out for official symbols and certifications.
So, despite it being not easy to spot whether a brand is greenwashing us, it can be taken as a step in the right direction.
Even if it is for selfish means, brands are becoming more sustainable, and eco-friendly products are widely available.
We must remember to do our research to be more ethical, and saving the environment is something that we can all help achieve one step at a time.