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What is Greenwashing?

How to spot it.

Last Updated on July 27, 2021

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been guilty of buying a piece of clothing from a fast fashion retailer and then vowed to only buy ‘sustainably’ moving forward.

We’re raising both, especially after learning that nearly three-fifths of clothing ends up in landfill in just a few years.

READ MORE: Is House of Sunny ethical and sustainable?

The question is: How sustainable is the product we’re eyeing? Will it be our key to becoming a more earth-friendly and responsible consumer or is it just enveloped in greenwashing? Here, we explain.

Is vintage fashion sustainable?
Is vintage fashion sustainable?

What is greenwashing?

The term was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in the ‘80s to describe the way companies spend more time and effort in marketing their claims of being environmentally friendly without making an actual impact. They call for sustainability publicly, but in reality their practices aren’t planet-friendly. Simply put, they might talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.

H&M has come under fire for greenwashing time and time again – more recently after hiring Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams as its ‘sustainability ambassador’. While they reached the top spot in the Fashion Transparency Index, they still remain a fast fashion retailer regardless. Read more about them here.

How do you know if it’s greenwashing?

It can be easy to fall into this trap, but don’t be disheartened. Here are some ways you can check whether or not a brand is being true to its sustainability promise. 

It’s not just in the clothes

Clothing made with sustainable materials is, of course, good for the environment. But sustainability in a brand doesn’t stop there. It’s also about providing equal pay, ensuring workers — in every part of the supply chain — have ethical and safe working conditions.

READ MORE: Fashion Revolution Week: Esther Knight, Founder of Fanfare Label, talks sustainability, fast fashion and modern slavery

Natural is not the only way to go

A common misconception and something that greenwashing promotes is that going down the natural route is the way to go if you want a sustainable wardrobe, opting for materials such as rayon, bamboo and viscose. While it’s true to some extent, it’s always important to know where these materials are sourced. 

Canopy claim that 150 million trees are cut down for viscose production every year and is responsible for deforestation, unless it’s from a certified source. Similarly, bamboo can be grown with pesticides and chemicals may be used in production. Both are often pegged as sustainable materials.

Vegan products don’t automatically mean sustainable either. While the impact of producing vegan leather is not quite as as bad as real leather for the environment, it still has drawbacks – such as when it’s made with plastic. And we all know how long it takes for plastic to biodegrade (read: years and years and years).

READ MORE: 7 apps that will help you curate a sustainable wardrobe

Do your research

All things considered, it’s safe to say that the best way to find out whether or not a company is truly sustainable or just greenwashing is by doing extensive research.

Find out whether or not the company is acting upon its goals by looking at its figures. What percentage of its products are recycled? How many of its employees are given liveable wages?

Resources such as Good On You and Higg Materials Sustainability Index will help you find out more.

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