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Sustainably Stylish: Greenwashing

by Aiden

Aparna Sharma reveals this sad reality in the fashion industry.

If you are someone who loves shopping, you are obviously familiar with terms like ‘eco friendly,’ and ‘sustainable.’ Consumers are becoming more conscious about their fashion choices, and sustainability sells, so these labels and tags are being used by all fast fashion brands, including Zara and H&M. But are these brands as sustainable as they claim? How can the customer know whether or not the brands are just ‘greenwashing’?

What is Greenwashing?

It’s the deceptive or misleading practice employed by companies and organisations to create a false impression of being environmentally responsible, to attract environmentally-conscious consumers without making substantive efforts to adopt genuine sustainable practices. Greenwashing can encompass anything from misleading advertising and false claims, to overstated eco-friendly initiatives.

Despite an increase in climate change activists calling out the fashion industry for their labour rights abuses and environmental damages, the industry is still broken. Statistics show that consumption is at an all-time high, and 90 percent or more of the products made by fast fashion companies continue to be mass produced from fossil fuel-based fabrics. Corporations are getting sneakier: labels are being tagged as sustainable when all it means is that paper for the label is FSC-certified sustainable paper, but the product the label was attached to is not actually sustainable. Fashion supply chains continue to be opaque, despite advocacy from organisations like Fashion Revolution, who are demanding accountability from fashion companies and pushing them to be more transparent about their sustainability claims.

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet recently exposed H&M’s ‘Close the Loop’ recycling initiatives. Due to the rise in awareness of how fast fashion is destroying ecosystems, H&M launched a programme where they claimed to take back old clothes and recycle them. However, Aftonbladet tracked multiple H&M garments using GPS transmitters and discovered that they continued to mass produce fossil fuel-based fabrics, and a significant amount of the clothes continued to go to landfills or were burnt, as it was revealed that many of the clothes’ fabrics couldn’t be recycled. Because of this extensive greenwashing in fashion, the EU is coming up with better rules and regulations for the fashion industry.

Tips to help you identify greenwashing:

  1. Look Beyond Buzzwords: Be cautious of terms like ‘natural,’ ‘eco-friendly,’ ‘green,’ or ‘sustainable’ if they are not backed by specific and verifiable information.
  2. Check for Specifics: Genuine sustainability claims are specific and backed by evidence. Look for detailed information about a company’s practices, certifications, and initiatives.
  3. Research Certifications: Some certifications (like Fairtrade International, GOTS, BCI, Oeko-Tex, etc.) have rigorous standards. Research what the certification entails and whether the company meets those standards.
  4. Assess the Entire Brand: Greenwashing often involves highlighting a single product or initiative. Look at the brand’s entire portfolio and practices. Are they mass producing? How dependent are they on fossil fuel based fabrics?
  5. Transparency Matters: Legitimate companies will openly share information about their practices, sourcing, and sustainability efforts. Lack of transparency could be a red flag.
  6. Check for Third-Party Verification: Independent organisations, journalists, advocates, or NGOs often verify sustainability claims. Look for affiliations with such entities.
  7. Beware of Unrealistic Claims: If a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be sceptical of companies claiming to be 100 percent eco-friendly or making extraordinary claims.
  8. Evaluate Packaging: Greenwashing can extend to packaging, with companies using earthy tones or nature imagery to imply eco-friendliness. Look beyond aesthetics and assess the actual impact.
  9. Research Company History: Consider a company’s past behaviour. If they have a history of environmentally harmful practices, sudden claims of sustainability might be suspect.
  10. Trust Your Instincts: If something feels off or too vague, trust your instincts and dig deeper. By being informed and cautious consumers, we can make choices that align with our values and support genuinely sustainable practices, without falling prey to greenwashing.

Aparna Sharma (Instagram: @stylishsuitcase) is a non-conformist who believes that fashion must become a force for good and style must meet sustainability. She breaks down the nuances of slow fashion and how we can stay stylish without being trendy.

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