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Greenwashing in Fashion Industry – Everything You Need to Know

#Sustainability
Zilingo Editorial Team
The popularity of sustainable practices has increased significantly in recent years. Sustainability has become a buzzword that the fashion industry is using consistently in its marketing campaigns. Businesses today are spending more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly. But how accurate are those claims? In this article, we will cover what greenwashing is, how it affects brands, and what you can do to avoid it.

What is Greenwashing?



Greenwashing is a marketing strategy that makes products more interesting to environmentally-conscious consumers.

Greenwashing is when companies do things that are harmful to the environment while saying they care about the environment and climate change. By making such false claims about their products, companies can appeal to eco-conscious customers, gain market share, and have an edge over competitors.

In 2021, the ICPEN (International Consumer Protection and
Enforcement Network) hosted an annual sweep of websites across various sectors, including clothes, cosmetics, and food. It analyzed 500 websites and found that up to 40% of environmentally friendly claims might be deceptive and could mislead customers.

Greenwashing is not a new strategy and dates back to the 1980s. The term “greenwashing” was originally coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986 in an essay in which he claimed that the ‘save the towel’ movement falsely promoted the reuse of towels as it was designed to save hotel laundry costs.

Greenwashing technique is considered misleading because brands unseemly portray themselves as more green than they actually are. In other words, greenwashing is a marketing gimmick in which a company spends more time and money on marketing itself as environmentally friendly rather than actually minimizing its environmental impact.

Greenwashing can be deliberate or unintentional. It is done deliberately when the brand’s product labels or advertising imply that they are taking care of the environment although they are not.

It can be done inadvertently when a company focuses on a particular issue that is helping the environment but does not look at the bigger picture where it is damaging the environment.


Why is Greenwashing a Problem?



A report shared by the nonprofit Changing Markets Foundation
revealed that as many as 59% of all green claims by European and UK fashion brands are misleading and could be greenwashing. Another report by the organization highlighted that while many fashion brands are pledging to lessen their environmental footprint, a majority of them are still relying on fossil fuel-based synthetic fibers.

Many fashion brands are becoming more sustainable in how they operate to appeal to customers. However, in reality, many of them may only be creating a facade of eco-friendly practices and products while they continue to engage in activities that harm the environment.

But why greenwashing is bad? Let’s face it…
  • The main issue is that brands say they are following sustainable practices while actually continuing to contribute to climate change.
  • Misleading information shared by brands can put people off from making environmentally conscious choices.
  • Greenwashing can damage a brand's reputation. Misleadingly claiming a product’s sustainability can lead to criticisms that damage a brand’s image.
  • Greenwashing may make people believe that they are doing something positive for the environment. However, it could be harming the environment without people realizing it.


What Does Greenwashing Look Like?



Here’s what greenwashing could look like in the fashion industry:
  • A fashion brand produces eco-friendly or conscious collections but does not share facts or figures to support its claims.
  • When a fashion brand claims its product or collection is eco-friendly based on a small set of attributes and does not consider its full production impact.
  • A brand releases only a small part of the product line sustainably but promotes itself as conscious.
  • When a fashion brand promotes that its products are made of sustainable fabric while the remaining clothing line is harming the environment.
  • A fashion product is promoted as natural or organic when only a small percentage of the product’s material is natural or organic.
  • When a brand implies that it holds a sustainable certification but actually it doesn’t.
  • When a brand reports the extent of its emissions misleadingly. It may only share direct emissions from its factory and not the indirect emissions.


How to Avoid Greenwashing?



The following are some of the strategies for fashion brands to avoid greenwashing:


1. Follow honest sustainability practices



To market your conscious clothing line, you will need to incorporate honest sustainability practices into your business plan. You can make sustainability a part of your sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, and waste disposal processes.

By working closely with sustainable suppliers and manufacturers, you can reduce your environmental and social impact and place yourself for robust growth in the fashion industry.


2. Make fair claims



Just as consumers are confused about sustainability strategies by brands, businesses can also be misled by the claims of potential suppliers. The best way to deal with misinformation is fair and clear detailed facts.

Be specific and do not use misleading language that gives the impression your product is more sustainable than it really is. Refrain from making vague claims. Give correct and clear information about your initiatives and plans regarding sustainability.

For example, as a fashion brand, you can include credible details, such as the percentage of natural fabrics in your cloth. You can mention ‘60% organic cotton’ rather than mentioning ‘made with organic cotton.’


3. Make sure your claims are verified by a third party



Green and sustainable certifications from third-party certification providers can help fashion brands communicate their values when it comes to sustainability and ethics. You can gain and add credible third-party certification from sources, such as NSF International and Woolmark. Don’t forget to check regularly if your claims still hold up.

Here are some sustainability certifications that you can consider:
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) - worldwide textile processing standard for organic fibers.
  • Cradle to Cradle - a global standard for safe, circular, and responsibly made products.
  • Organic Content Standard (OCS) - content claim standard that verifies the presence and amount of organic material in a product. The flow of the raw material from its source to the final product is also tracked
  • Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) & Global Recycled Standard (GRS) - these standards set requirements for third-party certification of recycled input and chain of custody.


4. Fair comparison



When you compare your brand or products with other brands or products, it should not lead to misinformation about your brand’s sustainability aspects. Compare the same product type so as not to mislead customers (e.g. T-shirt with T-shirt). You must give a fair comparison of your products and should not omit any important information.


5. Honest labels and visuals



Ensure the labels and visual claims that you are using are not misleading the customers. Refrain from giving any false impression about your product. Only use those visuals that support your claim.

For example, using green colors or images of trees and flowers may imply that your brand or products are eco-friendly.


Difference Between Green Marketing and Greenwashing



As consumers become increasingly focused on sustainable products, fashion brands are advertising and marketing their environmental and sustainability efforts to appeal to them. Greenwashing is becoming more prevalent in today’s fashion space. Thus, it is critical to differentiate green marketing initiatives from greenwashing.

Green marketing is when companies sell products or services highlighting the legitimate positive environmental impact. These brands are focused on selling environmentally and socially conscious products or services.

Green marketing is an honest, and transparent practice that implies that products or services meet the following:
  • Produced from organic or renewable materials
  • Manufactured in a sustainable manner
  • Do not use toxic chemicals in production
  • Recyclable
  • Do not put the health of people or animals at risk
  • Manufactured by workers who are fairly paid
  • Have a sustainable packaging
  • Do not unnecessarily harm animals
  • Have a low or zero carbon footprint
On the other hand, greenwashing refers to falsely or deceptively advertising a brand's environmentally friendly practices and sustainability efforts. It may lead to reputational and other harm to brands that engage in such practices.

One thing that you must remember is that there is a fine line between green marketing and greenwashing. It doesn’t take too long for brands to shift from green marketing to greenwashing if they don’t meet the standards of sustainable business practices.


Conclusion



As a clothing brand, following honest sustainable practices will benefit you in multiple ways – from growing consumer loyalty and increasing trust to a greener footprint on the planet. While it is a complex area that may mean facing big challenges ahead, you can stand out in the competition in every way.

If you would like to move to a greener world, contact us today.
Our experienced team will be happy to help you in any way they can, especially when it comes to sustainability.

Zilingo Editorial Team
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