So, what is greenwashing?
More than ever before, consumers are demanding environmentally conscious corporate behaviours from the fashion industry, including sustainability building, carbon offsetting or eco-tourism. However, this rising demand has been simultaneously increased by a global desire for cheap, fast fashion and fast-changing trends. Scrambling to try and satisfy these contradicting needs, many companies started to use unsubstantiated claims, typically highlighting broad terms like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable”. It is now common for most brands to feature some sort of “organic” or “sustainable” product. While these words were initially harmless, they’ve grown to be environmental buzzwords intended to mislead consumer beliefs and create a deceptive form of marketing. As a consumer, it is important to take responsibility to question brands that may use a variety of keywords for marketing purposes.
Ways that businesses conduct greenwashing
Because of the high costs associated with completely changing a business model, brands are choosing to rebrand, rename and repackage their products to create the illusion that they are making efforts toward sustainable practices. Some of the most notable brand tactics have been launching “sustainable collections,” sometimes featuring “sustainability ambassadors.”
Releasing sustainable collections is an emerging form of greenwashing practiced by large fast fashion brands. I’m sure you can think of a couple off the top of your head- but the most well-known is that of H&M’s Conscious collection which featured organic cotton and recycled polyester. While these claims made by big-box companies are not necessarily false, they purposely narrow the definition of “sustainable”, leading customers to believe that using poor materials for their clothing is the only way brands contribute to the polluting industry. As a result, consumers’ attention is diverted from the other prevailing social issues in the industry. In the Conscious campaign, H&M forgot to mention that the entire line was manufactured and produced at the same hostile, low-wage facility as the rest of their clothing. While brands do not (and cannot) be perfect in every regard, consumers need to be aware of this fact and learn about the various factors that play into sustainability. This includes the textile manufacturing and production process, labour wages, fabric circularity, fabric recycling, transparency, small-batch production, and more.
So, why do unethical business behaviours continue to persist?
After all, shouldn’t brands want to be morally aligned with their consumers? Shouldn’t ethical and smart business decisions be a priority in a world where cars can drive themselves and there is no shortage of business investment?
The Five Driving Factors
- Financially motivated businesses want to increase their environmental reputation to increase profits, without increasing costs.
- As brands are scrambling to figure out how to meet growing consumer demand, environmental marketing campaigns may be put on the fast track and advertised before the actual green model is put into action.
- Division of interest amongst an organization's people; some may place a greater need for environmental consciousness in front of others.
- Brands do not want to compromise at the intersection of growing demand for sustainable products and high volumes of cheap products.
- A lack of widespread education or belief in sustainable fashion certifications, processes, and methods.
Consumers and Sustainability Marketing
A simple overstatement or false claim can send ripples through the fashion industry- but who ends up bearing the brunt of it all? It is, as it usually tends to be, the consumer. While greenwashing is not a new concept, consumer awareness has risen significantly in the past decade. This awareness has sparked a new concept called green skepticism. Now that there is an overwhelming amount of available information about these tactics, consumers start to doubt “eco” brands more heavily. Unfortunately, the rising amount of consumer awareness has also resulted in consumer confusion- leading people to want to give up on the idea of supporting green brands at all! This growing marketing tactic could be a massive threat to any progress made by those small businesses trying to make a change. So, be skeptical but not cynical when you’re choosing who to support- and do your research!
How can we be better consumers?
1. The words “eco-friendly” and “sustainable”: stop using them (on their own at least).
As conscious consumers, we have been trained to gravitate toward these words. And while companies may have concrete reasoning for labelling their product with them, there are no regulations surrounding the use of these words. This means that any product on the market is free to plaster these words wherever they want, no matter if they have environmental benefits associated with them or not. Instead, when you’re looking around for “sustainable”, or “eco-friendly” brands, make sure to dig a little deeper into keywords like manufacturing process, certifications, water and resource usage, carbon emissions, packaging, and recycled/organic materials, as they are often more specific explanations into a business’ operations.
2. Look at the brand’s ethical fashion certifications
Checking a brand's ethical fashion certifications is a great place to get an image of how true their claims are. Since they need to go through an extensive (and sometimes expensive!) process of achieving these certifications, chances are they really want to communicate that you can feel good about supporting them. But, if you stumble across a brand that you really love and can’t find any certifications about them (especially small businesses that can’t afford a certification), keep reading for more tips.
3. The longer it takes to get information about a brand’s environmental impact, the higher the chances it's just greenwashing you
If you start to catch on to the fact that a brand might just be using “environmental buzzwords”, start to do some digging. If you can’t find any information to back up the claims, or it takes you longer than just a couple of clicks on their website, they have probably tried to bury their unfavorable practices deep-down in the archives.
4. Use other resources to facilitate your actions
There are TONS of websites out there dedicated to simply helping you become a better consumer. My personal favorite is https://goodonyou.eco/, where you can research the brand in question and they will give you a rating based on their ethical and sustainable impacts. When you’re reading through the ratings, keep in mind that it is difficult for a brand to have no negative impact (in fact, it’s impossible), so take all the information with a grain of salt. :)
5. Discover your new go-to brand style
Figuring out how to change our daily habits in the midst of media and fashion fashion noise is difficult, so we’ve compiled a list of our favourite small Canadian brands for you to try out (tested and approved) as a starting point:
Rauw Jewelry → Mindfully handmade jewelry in a small Vancouver workshop with recycled silver, gold, and bronze, making it a conscious brand for a conscious shopper.
At SINGLA Intimates, we create all lace lingerie from cutting-edge recycled materials. We are also a local Toronto based team of women dedicated to producing in small batches and educating our customers about conscious fashion.
Follow our Instagram here: SINGLA Intimates for regular updates, product launches, and news.