Did you know that, according to the non-profit Changing Markets Foundation’s report, nearly 60% of sustainable fashion claims are considered to be greenwash? With sustainability-related claims on the rise, the fundamental issue now is, why do fashion brands that claim to engage in sustainability efforts fail in their actions?
The Great Greenwashing Machine, a white paper authored by Veronica Bates-Kassatly and The Geneva Center For Business and Human Rights (GCBHR), explained that fashion businesses fail because of three reasons: they use a flawed definition of sustainability, they rely on unscientific methods, and the option for selective implementation. This results in brands ending up making sustainability claims that they cannot substantiate.
The True Antidote to Greenwashing is Knowledge
According to Deloitte, educated and empowered, consumers’ attitudes on sustainability have changed in the last few years. Hyper aware of the condition of the environment, consumers have become part of the positive dialogue around sustainability and social justice. For many consumers, particularly Millennials, sustainability has become a crucial part of consumers’ decision-making. Yes, most consumers understand that fashion brands can not be 100% sustainable right now. However, they still expect brands to invest in actionable solutions that address the detrimental impact of their business on the environment.
This expectation to cater to the changing habits of consumers has had brands like H&M feeling the pressure to make pledges. Most recently, the H&M Group joined the EU Commission’s Green Consumption Pledge Initiative. Although the fast-fashion brand is no stranger to being accused of greenwashing, they have committed to becoming climate positive by 2040. But what is greenwashing?
Coined in the 1980s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, the term ‘greenwashing’ has slowly morphed into a dirty word with which no brand wants to be associated. Defined as “engaging in environmentally unsustainable practices” by Westerveld, the term has driven the fashion industry to go overboard with its sustainability-focused campaigns. So much so that many initiatives have started to get called out by ‘do gooders’ like the founder of Fashion Revolution, Orsola de Castro.
In a frank interview with Graduate Fashion Foundation, Castro shared: “Every initiative, big or small, has an element of greenwashing to it because there is no way that anyone is in a position to resolve hundreds of years of human and environmental exploitation in one go”.
Therefore, to be accused of ‘greenwashing’ in this day and age is like having a red scarlet letter imprinted on your brand. So, are you ready to ask yourself, “are my green credentials really green?”
Calling Out Brands for Not Walking the Talk
The fashion industry has become notorious for deviating from addressing its social and environmental impact. A reaction blamed on the fact that there are varied definitions of sustainability in circulation, which has led to false or misleading sustainability claims becoming commonplace.
Without clear standards conceived to prevent greenwashing, the court of public opinion now demands clarity on how brands plan to reduce their environmental footprint. This is one of the reasons why the Competition and Markets Authority(CMA) has put businesses falsely taking credit for being green on notice.
“We are concerned that too many businesses are falsely taking credit for being green, while genuinely eco-friendly firms do not get the recognition they deserve”, explained Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA.
Hoping to help businesses comply with the law, CMA has published the Green Claims Code. Part of a more comprehensive awareness campaign, the Green Claims Code focuses on six principles created to reduce the risk of misleading shoppers. Offering guidance, CMA hopes to help businesses confidently navigate the law in this area and embrace circular solutions that will help them honestly communicate their green credentials.
In our recent webinar Green Legislation’s Impact on Fashion moderated by Amy Nguyen, founder of Sustainable and Social and sustainability contributor at Forbes, the four-person panel touched on greenwashing and the CMA’s recently published Green Claims Code. During the conversation, Baptiste Carriere-Pradal of Policy Hub, Circularity for Apparel and Footwear, stated: “While organisations need to rethink the current claims they are making, they also need to rethink the representativity and the depth of the claim”.
Adding: “[Doing so] ensures that the thing we are claiming is accurate to the different elements and whether it actually matches where the main impact is coming from. Whether that be at a product level or brand level. Just making sure the claim is about the most impactful element.”
On the same issue, Ian Gill of Futerra commented, “From a consumer point of view, I would much rather see a brand put their hands up and say where they got something wrong than not say anything at all”.
Gill explained: “It is great admitting what has gone wrong, but it is more important to mention how you are going to fix them, and you do not need to have all the answers; you just need some sort of plan to move towards that.”
With plans to give a full review of misleading green claims, both on and offline, at the start of 2022, there is pressure on fashion companies and retailers to start thinking about how they can substantiate their sustainability claims or start their green transition. This is where Green Story can step in.
Understanding Your Impact In A Credible and Relatable Way
With sustainability the critical driver of innovation, vague claims will no longer cut it. Using words like “sustainable”, “green”, “climate-friendly”, “recycled”, and “organic” is not enough; consumers demand brands be clear, specific and substantiated. However, adopting sustainable behaviour with the absence of a robust regulatory system makes communicating your sustainability achievements a challenge.
The good news is that making that 180-degree change requires guidance from innovative solutions created to cut through the noise so you can successfully make great strides to present credible and verifiable claims.
One of the solutions we offer is Know Your Impact. Know Your Impact uses the global standard of LCA methodology with data sourced from accredited international partners. We combine supply-chain sustainability analysis with interactive data and impact visuals. Doing so enables brands to gain and communicate accurate sustainability data with peace of mind. This not only future proofs a brand but also enriches the customer experience, enhances brand transparency, and as a result, increases customer engagement and loyalty.
The Importance of Getting Your House in Order
Although there is scepticism over self-proclaimed sustainability in the fashion industry, there are now ways you can protect yourself from being accused of greenwashing. We at Green Story are ready to help you embrace a more sustainable, transparent and genuine way of doing business. So far, we have collaborated with sustainable fashion pioneers like PANGAIA, threadUP, ARMEDANGELS, For Days and more.
Lastly, yes, some might argue that the system is broken, but that does not mean that the days of too-good-to-be-true claims should not come to an end. Instead, we should all come together to help rebuild a system that empowers businesses to “see the wood for the tree”. Only when one has clarity will one be able to get their house in order.