6 ways to spot GREENWASHING

First of all, what does the term ‘Greenwashing’ actually mean? Because it sure gets thrown around a lot lately…

To greenwash something [a brand, a new clothing collection, etc] is to create the illusion of sustainability, without actually doing any of the work. It can be as literal as using earth tones and textures in an ad campaign to give things an ‘environmentally friendly’ aesthetic. Or it could be through misleading claims about a proportion of clothes being made from recycled materials. Perhaps a company is proudly claiming to pay its workers fairly, but refusing to disclose any actual figures. There are many ways to go about greenwashing but the result is always the same; an unearned badge of responsibility, without expending any real effort.

With the news that ASOS have had to pull their sustainable collection over greenwashing allegations, PLT pushing their way into the resale market, and H&M being called out yet again, let’s take a look at the ways you can spot a scam.

Lettering on a shop window that reads 'we care about the future'
By Markus Spiske via Unsplash

1 Impossible claims & targets

What does ‘a percentage of profits will go to charity’ actually mean, if the percentage is never specified and the charities are never named? Not a whole lot. Similarly, bold sustainability targets with no tangible actions or deadlines don’t actually do much either. Holding brands accountable when they make these kinds of declarations is important. Transparency allows consumers to see firsthand how their money is being used. Which is precisely why a lot of fast fashion companies choose to remain very, very opaque about their practices. 

Look for verifiable targets [goals like ‘carbon neutral shipping by *year*’ and ‘produced with ethical cotton from *source*’ etc] and check back for updates on ongoing projects. There are plenty of brands out there who are putting the work in and they deserve to be recognized.

2 Token changes

Don’t get us wrong, we love recyclable packaging. It’s a fantastic, simple step towards being more sustainable. And it does pack an undeniable punch when it comes from brands who are shipping out millions of orders each year. But when that’s the one and only change your enormous corporation is making to tackle the climate change which you are fueling, it’s just… not enough.

Minor changes do add up to bigger things but it’s all about scale. Don’t let harmful companies off the hook just because they’ve switched to cardboard or stopped including silica packets. The actions being taken to offset the damage they do should be on a much larger scale.

3 The greenwashing collection [after bad press]

Did this handy new ‘eco-range’ drop after the brand came under heavy scrutiny, by any chance? Surely not! The list of fast fashion giants who’ve dipped a toe into ‘sustainable’ fashion is as long as it is bewildering. Typically, this range will completely miss the point. There’ll be plenty of feel-good slogans, lots of green, and maybe even one of those vague pledges we mentioned earlier. Perhaps a celebrity endorsement to lend credibility.

But you can bet your bottom dollar the scale of production is still colossal, the workers are underpaid, the fabrics are produced at huge detriment to the environment, and it’ll all wind up in landfill anyway. Wonderful. Keep an eye on this range, it usually disappears without a trace after a couple of months and then it’s back to business as usual. 

Woman in an orange dress holding flowers, stood in a meadow
By Erke Rysdauletov via Unsplash

4 It’s all temporary

Much like those suspect environmentally-conscious ranges we just mentioned, another tactic is the seasonal vibe shift. If you see phrases like ‘for this month we’ll be…’ followed by a change that would be really beneficial from the brand all year round, you know you’re in greenwashing territory. 

Temporary changes – ‘our Spring collection is all recycled!’ – don’t tend to come as a result of these companies having a change of heart. They’re carefully mapped out for maximum profits. Which means these improvements are weighed up, decided to be too much effort in the long term, and then dropped. There’s a great deal of cynicism behind greenwashing. It knows exactly what the solutions are, but it won’t act on them.

5 The scale is HUGE

Overconsumption. Is. Never. Sustainable. 

It doesn’t matter how ethically sourced the materials are, or how responsibly they’re made if millions upon millions of items are still being churned out. With innumerable items flooding the New In pages every week, the sheer volume of fast fashion’s production is both staggering and depressing. The industry can never be sustainable while it’s grossly over-producing.

At the end of the day there are far too many new clothes being made. End of story. The last thing anyone needs – and the least sustainable – is to have more.  Especially not from brands who clearly don’t understand their part in the problem.

6 It still doesn’t add up

If it seems too good to be true, chances are that it is. This is especially true when it comes to the prices. We’ve covered how fast fashion is actually an expensive waste of money here. But what about the prices of the items themselves? 

Considering the material, the complexity, and the quality of finish are a few good indicators of how much a garment should cost. Ask yourself how many hours it would take for someone to make the item, applying minimum wage to that time at the very least, and leaving some room for profit on top… does that ridiculously low price tag make any sense? The people who produce the millions of garments being churned out by fast fashion companies are seeing virtually NONE of the colossal profits the company makes. We know from explosive documentaries that workers are offered as little as 3p for each item they make at SheIn. It’s no longer a secret that these ‘bargains’ are coming at an inexcusably high cost to other people.

Woman wearing a crop top carrying a green shoulder bag
By Jasmin Chew via Unsplash

So that’s greenwashing!

Next time you see an ad for a brand who claim to have done a complete 180 on their harmful ways, take a closer look. Can they actually provethey’re making these changes? Are they cutting down on the huge excess of stock they produce? Will this new approach be permanent? Do the prices add up to fair pay for their workers? Or is it just a lot of trendy buzzwords and some leafy graphics? 


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