Why Greenwashing Needs To Go - Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka
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Why Greenwashing Needs To Go

A breakdown of how you can do your part.


With the increasing pressure on the fashion industry, some players have changed the course of their businesses for the better. But, there are those who use buzzwords like “eco-conscious” and “sustainability” to promote their business. 

Coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westervelt, greenwashing is when a business uses misleading or false claims to show it’s doing more for the environment than it actually is. Greenwashing isn’t something new, it dates back to the late-1960s when US public utility firms were investing more on advertising their anti-pollution research rather than on the initiatives themselves. Sounds nasty, right? From the standpoint of a customer, how can you stay clear of the act of greenwashing by doing your part? Here’s a breakdown. 

  1. Research the facts and numbers. Whenever you come across a company claiming to be eco-conscious, find out if it’s true or whether they’re merely bluffing. In August, the Norwegian Consumer Authority called H&M out for greenwashing.

H&M’s Conscious collection was made out of more sustainable materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester and Tencel. The issue was that H&M didn’t provide information on how these materials are better for the environment.

“What do the brands mean when they are talking about something that has a reduced impact?” says Maxine Bédat, founder of the New Standard Institute, which pushes brands to be transparent about their environmental and social footprint. 

This question revolves around the brand’s promises as a result of the Covid-19 crisis and, this time, it is labour rights that are at stake. According to the reports from Bangladesh, H&M was the first major brand to commit to paying for all of its already-produced-orders and those in production. This was followed by other retail giants like Target, Marks & Spencer, Zara and PVH Corp. But, the lack of clarity on the details of when suppliers will get paid and other respective areas of this claim has raised even more questions. 

So, if you wish to do your part as a customer, go to their website, find out their corporate social responsibility reports. If their measures are accurate, you will have all the facts and figures you need. If you don’t find proper information on their eco-conscious ways, ask them. To further expand your knowledge, read up on disclosure frameworks drawn by organisations like Fashion Revolution, Green Peace, Know The Chain, Carbon Disclosure Project, and Fair Wear Foundation. 

2. Look out for industry-standard certifications. These include Bluesign®, that focuses on environmental health and safety in the manufacturing of textiles; Cradle to Cradle Certified™, given to items that are completely biodegradable and compostable or are repetitive; and Fair Trade Textiles Standard, that ensures workers are being protected throughout the supply chain, including their right to form unions. When buying organic cotton, check for Global Organic Textile Standard and Organic Content Standards, both certifications make sure the supply meets the standards across the supply chain.

3. Natural and vegan ingredients aren’t always ethical. It depends on how they are sourced. For instance, bamboo is a fast-growing material, but, sometimes, it’s grown using pesticides. Subsequently, chemicals are often used when it’s turned into fabric. “Viscose is responsible for deforestation unless it comes from a certified source,” explains Orsola de Castro, founder of campaign group Fashion Revolution. Tools such as the Higg Materials Sustainability Index can help find out the credibility of the resources used in production.

4. Find out who is making your clothes. Brands are offering less transparency about the actual treatment of their factory workers. For instance, the latest issue on the cancellation of orders from Bangladesh has left millions of garment workers in dangerous levels of poverty. Sign the petitions and look upon the content made by Bangladeshi influencers, educate yourself. Apart from that, check Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index that highlights information released by top brands about their supply chains, production lines and social and environmental impact. Additionally, look at Fair Wear Foundation and Worker Rights Consortium’s reports and updates on their investigations into the treatment of factory workers around the world.  

5. Invest in brands with an integrated sustainability approach. Fast fashion companies tend to hide the dirt with just one “green” campaign, therefore keep an eye on their 360-degree approaches. The key to choosing the right fashion retailer is to pick the ones that carry a uniform sustainable approach across all their departments like design, production, logistics, and sales. Boohoo’s #forthefuture capsule was sold as space to “dress well and do your bit for the planet”. The online retailer released 100 new products a day, and the prices were marked at £4. Many called out the brands saying that recycled polyester at a non-reusable price rate isn’t necessarily going to change anything.


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