Greenwashing - Shedding Light on the Minefield of Marketing
Greenwashing has become a marketing technique where brands are able to convince customers that all their products are eco-friendly, when in fact, maybe only a tiny percentage of their products, or sometimes none at all, are made with the environment in mind.
As Greenwashing typically consists of well crafted empty promises and convincing ‘statistics’, it confuses buyers, making them feel overwhelmed. Or worse, it convinces them of the brand’s ‘sustainable’ practises.
“Greenwashing is a corporate marketing strategy that takes advantage of the increased public interest in environmental issues to make false or misleading claims about a company’s environmental practices and products. To create a favourable company image, positive messages are communicated selectively, without the full disclosure of related issues. Common examples may include: advertising recycled or organic cotton products that in fact have only a fraction of recycled or organic content; claims of carbon neutral performance while this is mainly based on carbon offsetting; promotion of ‘conscious’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘green’ lines by companies who do not follow the same standards in the rest of their products; or loud environmental statements by companies whose business models are based on large-scale production and high material throughput, both of which are irreconcilable with planetary boundaries and the climate emergency. The most effective tool in combating greenwashing is education using a shared language on the environmental and social impacts of fashion and deepening public awareness of such issues. Educational institutions as well as fashion journalists and leading fashion media have, therefore, a critical role to play in creating cultures of sustainability.” (The Sustainable Fashion Glossary, Condé Nast).
A greenwashing case study that shows the multiple layers and grey areas involved in genuine attempts, is H&M. Though H&M came first in Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index 2020, their sheer size, sourcing, supply chain and workforce are just not good enough. Greenwashing can address environmental issues, but also can be used to distract consumers from poor workplace practice.
“Earlier this year H&M shared new green claims with WWD, including a pledge to use solely recycled or sustainable materials by 2030. H&M also came first in Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index 2020. Don’t these two facts make it sound like a truly sustainable brand? Yet many see these examples as strategic box-ticking exercises rather than a truly holistic way of doing business – and thus greenwashing. H&M has since been accused of not addressing the detrimental impact of mass production on the planet. From toxic dyes entering our water systems to failing to pay garment workers a full living wage. “ (Refinery29, 2020).
Greenwashing can be difficult to detect unless keeping a vigilant eye. Brands will market in such a way to keep it inconspicuous. It also stretches across all sectors, such as food and supermarkets. Brands such as Marks & Spencers and Sainsburys introduced their own brand ‘sustainable’ food options. These items are more expensive than their other own brand items, however they may not even be more ‘sustainable’. Their branding and packaging also invoke a feeling of premium product, creating a divide between consumers. This supports the troubling issue of sustainable goods being unattainable for many individuals.
Greenwashing also supports the practice of mindless consumption. Products appearing ‘green’ and ‘fair’ will falsely entice consumers looking to spend their money mindfully. We all individually have the power to challenge the effects of greenwashing, by adopting mindful shopping choices.
“Our clothes should be covering up our bodies, not the reality in which they were made”
- Orsola Decastro founder and creative director of Fashion Revolution