FACT: Earth’s freshwater supply is infinite, so each cotton t-shirt requiring over 1,000 litres of it to be produced is no big deal. Also, climate change isn’t real. When you read statements like these, the critical thinking part of your brain probably says, “HOLD UP”!
Greenwashing and misinformation are everywhere, and it’s not always this obvious. As sustainable fashion gains popularity, false claims of eco-friendliness grow too. Critical literacy in analyzing green advertising is more important than ever as more and more brands try to a slice of the eco-fashion rewards pie.
Problem is, greenwashing is the opposite of meaningful change, and too many companies use it as a get out of jail free card with consumer scrutiny. Greenwash makes consumers lose faith in green products overall. Why pay more for so-called green products if you can’t trust any of their claims?
So what should consumers look out for and brands make sure to avoid doing? Here are 3 big red flags that you are dealing with greenwash:
Bold calls for ethics and sustainability by brands are fine and dandy, but don’t always believe what you hear. One organization ran the numbers and found there is double the organic cotton being advertised than is currently possible to produce. Companies will say all sorts of stuff to sell their products, but that doesn’t always mean they can back up their claims. For example, Everlane’s ‘radical transparency’ is a great marketing slogan, but their secretive production process falls short of actually game-changing. Look closely for any form of proof – data, reports, facts – before buying into the hype.
Think about it – what does ‘all natural’ even mean? Too many firms use words like ‘biodegradable’ even though plenty of synthetics ‘biodegrade’…. in 200 years, or ‘all-natural’ without specifying what exactly is natural. Hazy buzzwords like this are usually signals that a brand cares more about appearing green than following through. H&M came under fire last year for promoting their Conscious line as having recycled polyester and organic cotton – without any information on what amount of the garments were recycled or organic. All evidence points to H&M wanting to capitalize on consumer eco-anxiety without truly changing their clothing, and they are not the only ones.
Do you know your greenwashed symbols from your bona fide reputable third-party certifications? Anyone can slap an illustration of an animal or plant in a circle and call it eco-fashion, but many lack the independent third-party research to make them meaningful. Look at those symbols closely – have you ever seen it outside of that store? What happens with you google it? When a brand takes the time to be certified with a real eco-label, they usually show it off.
What to look for and do instead:
Develop critical literacy to recognize greenwash and avoid it. Educate yourself on the right questions to ask and the major issue areas and indicators of eco-fashion. Here’s how to start.
Our tips on avoiding greenwashing and developing critical literacy towards green advertising continues below, but if you are interested in learning more about sustainable fashion, check out our free ebooks! You can also learn more about sustainability through following us on our Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or subscribing to our newsletter!
Concrete Data and Numbers
How many greenhouse gas emissions are they avoiding? How is this brand solving the massive water requirement issues for common garment production? Data shows that brands took the time to trace and evaluate their supply chains and find efficiencies. When brands make the numbers clear, they make themselves credible. It shows care about their processes and customers that they are aware of the numbers and open to sharing them.
Spend a few minutes to memorize the reputable eco-certifications and which ones align with your priorities. For example, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) requires high standards of environmental and social responsibility to certify a garment. To be GOTS certified, garments are analyzed from material harvest and to manufacturing to ensure organic status and that workers are treated in accordance with standards set by the International Labour Organization.
OEKO-Tex Standard 100 certification means the textiles have been tested and are clear of 100 common harmful chemicals, and Fair Trade means workers are paid according to market standards and treated fairly. Increasing amounts of consumers are familiarizing themselves with genuine eco-labels, why not join them?
What are their materials? Where do they come from? Where is production happening? The answers to these questions can make or break a clothing line’s sustainability. Choice of materials, how they were produced, and the energy grid manufacturing happens on make drastic differences in emissions. When brands are willing to give more information via hang tags or online on material and manufacturing details, it’s a good sign. If you aren’t sure what to look for, check out our blog and free ebook comparing different popular fabrics as a start!
As a brand, without access to information on your process, consumers are going to be skeptical of anything you say.
Do you have a green fashion brand and want more info on how to market authentically and avoid a greenwasher reputation? We made a free ebook for that. Click here for access.