Greenwashing: Don’t be fooled

Greenwashing is a term that describes the act of marketing a product or company as sustainable or under the umbrella of environmentally friendly, when the truth is, they are far from it. For example, if you’ve seen a notorious fast fashion company recently release a ‘sustainable’, ‘green’ or ‘recycled’ range in an attempt to resurrect their public image, this would be considered greenwashing.

An infographic showing different buzzwords to do with greenwashing in various speech bubbles in different shades of green

Beware of the Buzzwords

Phrases such as “eco”, “sustainable” and “green” are commonly used by companies to make themselves appear environmentally conscious – but they rarely pertain to any scientific standards. Just because a brand claims that their fabrics are “sustainably made”, that doesn’t mean they are. The best way to work out whether they are sustainable is looking at their website, brands who are serious about improving their practices will make ambitious goals backed up by scientific evidence, if the language is vague, they are most likely treating sustainability as a trend to keep up with.

“To produce a single 100% cotton t-shirt, 2700 litres of water are needed alone”

– Triplepundit

Other buzzwords to look out for fall under the semantic field of ‘natural’. Natural doesn’t always equal sustainable, for example, to produce a single 100% cotton t-shirt, 2700 litres of water are needed alone. Whether materials are eco-friendly or not is also determined by how they’re sourced, materials such as viscose, rayon and bamboo are promoted as eco-friendly, however, 150 million trees are cut down for viscose production every year. Bamboo is also a fast-growing fibre but, like cotton, is sometimes grown with pesticides or chemicals are used when transforming it into fabric.

The same theory can also be applied to materials are labelled ‘vegan’. A lot of synthetic materials used in the place of substances like leather or fur are made with oil. Brands who are researching animal product alternatives in depth will often use a patented synthetic material, for example, Stella McCartney released a line with Mylo, a vegan leather made from mushrooms .

2 pictures side by side, one shows a layered column of earth sediment with a mushroom growing out of the top, the other shows Stella McCartney's vegan mushroom leather range. The model wears a black leather textured bustier with matching high waisted tight trousers
Stella McCartney x Mylo

Who makes our clothes?

A simple rule of thumb to keep in mind is that the bigger the company, the longer their supply chain will be. Whilst a company may publish information on the supply chain, such as the factory in which the clothes were made, transparency on how their workers are treated or how to get in touch with them is very often not included. Unfortunately, a lot of brands will also higher a large factory who will then subsidize the work to other factories, often willing to work for a lower price which in turn makes the supply chain untraceable as the conglomerate will claim they were oblivious and are not liable if an investigation is actually carried out. A shorter supply chain and transparency on the actual manufacturing of products is a good sign of sustainable practice. Industry verified credentials listed on their website is also a good way of ensuring that their practices are ethical, look out for Bluesign, which covers environmental health and safety in the manufacturing of textiles; Cradle to Cradle Certified, given to products that are fully biodegradable and compostable or can be used repeatedly; and Fair Trade Textiles Standard, which ensures workers are being protected throughout the supply chain, including their right to unionize.

An infographic showing the fashion supply chain.

It’s important to remain vigilant when shopping today as the impact of fast fashion is becoming detrimental to our environment as well as the lives of the very people making our clothes. When possible, shopping second hand and sustainably can make a difference. Don’t trust greenwashing!

By Rosa Macvicar