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Greenwashing is that all-purpose cleaner you see in a green bottle with phrases like “natural” “non-toxic” and “eco-friendly” written on it.
The term greenwashing started in the 1980s by the environmentalist, Jay Westerveld, who noticed some hotels were supporting the act of reusing towels but didn’t actually practice any recycling programs.
Greenwashing can make a company appear more environmentally friendly than it actually is. They who promote eco initiatives, without having any actual business practices that minimize their environmental impact. These companies market themselves as environmentally friendly by using links to nature such as images of the earth, animals, plants and the colour green in the advertising of their products.
Remember the Dawn commercials showing their dish soap cleaning up animals after they had been exposed to oil spills? They promoted “Dawn helps save wildlife” and 1 bottle = $1 Donation. However, the product itself contains triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient that is actually very harmful to animals. This is a prime example of how greenwashing is very apparent in the marketing of household cleaning products.
Not only is greenwashing a major problem in household products, it exists in fashion too. Major retailer H&M launched its first garment collection program in 2013 and has said to have since collected over 40,000 tonnes of textiles. They have more recently released a new campaign video, “Bring It” that advertises that they want all of your unwanted clothing, whether it be ripped or stained, or just any kind of textile, even curtains and underwear. Voicing that they want to “shred it into fibres and stitch into something new”. They have donation boxes in their stores with “let’s close the loop” written in capital and bold lettering, sometimes offering customers a discount on a future purchase for donating. But according to environmental professionals, less than one percent of this clothing is actually being recycled into new clothing, further greenwashing this “feel-good” advertisement.
Companies know now more than ever that consumers are pushing towards a greener economy and are willing to pay extra for sustainable and ethical goods. So these brands will do what they need to adhere to those consumer needs. They won’t take the steps that will better the planet and the lives of others, but will use greenwashing as a marketing ploy to ensure that their products are being sold.
So how can we identify greenwashing in the marketing of products, and how can we avoid them? Here are a few examples of what you can do:
1. Supply Chains
Production is the number one polluter in the fashion industry, it accounts for 70% of the overall carbon footprint. Brands should be looking at how they can lessen their footprint in production, transportation and the environmental impact of sourcing materials. Most brands will a have social responsibility and sustainability initiative report on their website that addresses its supply chain footprint. If they do not have anything like this available, you can assume that they are not doing anything exceptional for the environment.
2. Labour Standards
Labour standards are vital to look at when assessing a brand. If a brand doesn’t pay their workers fairly, you can ensure that they don’t care very much for their employees, or for the planet.
A minimum wage and a living wage are much different. Many countries have a minimum wage, as we all know is the lowest legal wage a company can pay. But these minimum wages are usually not enough for garment workers to feed themselves and their families, to afford rent and pay for healthcare. The difference between what minimum wage is and what is considered a living wage is that these workers can afford to live off of what they are being paid. Companies that ensure their workers are being paid a minimum wage in countries like Bangladesh – whose minimum wage is not comparable to a living wage – are not necessarily doing them good.
3. Eco Materials
Brands that advertise the use of materials such as organic cotton and bamboo in their collections, will often lead you to believe that all of their clothing is made from these materials when they are really only a part of a small portion.
Make sure when a brand says that they use organic cotton, its certified. It’s easy to see the word “organic” and think that it’s sustainable, but don’t overlook the water waste and harmful chemicals that come with cotton, look for GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification to confirm that it is truly a sustainable fabric.
Doing your own research is a great way to figure out how ethical and sustainable a brand is. Reading articles such as this one, looking at a brand’s sustainability initiative on their website, and keeping up with fashion news is the best way to know what exactly goes on in the fashion industry behind closed doors.
Written by Cara Presta