Greenwashing – What it is and how to avoid it.

Companies want us to feel like we’re making the right choices by choosing their products. Even if we’re not. Some simply bend the truth, and make inflated claims about their sustainability and eco credentials. Other companies simply lie. Greenwashing comes in a number of disguises – from colour changes, use of leaves as imagery, clever marketing words, misleading labels, and so on.

It could be one label, like recyclable packaging – when there’s nothing else eco about the product. Or use of the word “natural” – which actually has no legal definition. Fashion brands will use terms like “conscious collection” and “made with recycled polyester” on a handful of products – in many cases, it’s just an attempt to disguise the majority of their unethical practices.

Unless you’ve done your research before going shopping, greenwashing can be very difficult to avoid and almost impossible to see through. This is where Ethical Consumer comes in useful in enabling you to check a brand before you buy. Most of us have smartphones on us all the time now, so we can always have a quick check in the shop or supermarket, without having to spend hours in front of the PC taking notes.

Top Tips:

  1. Check the parent company

Recently, ethical brand Pukka were bought out by not so ethical big brand Unilever, and their ethical consumer score plummeted. Pukka still use their same ethical marketing language, but the money is ultimately going to the parent company. The same with Ecover, now owned by Johnson & Johnson.

  • What’s their score?

A very quick and simple way to get an immediate idea of a companies ethics is to check the overall score on ethical consumer. Green is good, red is avoid, and somewhere in the middle is really up to personal choice. The higher the score, the better the ethics.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

  • Are they cherry picking?

Does a big fashion brand claim to use recycled and/or organic fabrics for some of their range, yet mentions nothing about the conditions in their factories for the people who make the clothes? Then it’s most likely greenwashing. Ethical claims shouldn’t be cherry picked – if you’re trading ethically, that means the environment, humans and non-human animals should be treated in equal fairness.

  • Do the claims actually hold up to scrutiny?

According to a recent press release from Synthetics Anonymous, 59% of claims by European and UK companies including H&M, ASOS and M&S were unsubstantiated or misleading to consumers. The worst offenders were H&M with a huge 96% of false claims, ASOS with 89% and M&S with 88% false claims. H&M’s Conscious Collection was actually found to contain an even higher share of synthetics than the main one (72% compared to 61%).

A quick search online will lead to much of this information. You can also consult the Ethical Consumer website.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

  • Do they have evidence?

According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, 93% of brands don’t have evidence to prove they pay a living wage to their suppliers.

In 2019, Norway’s consumer watchdog criticised fast-fashion chain H&M for misleading marketing of its “sustainable” Conscious collection, stating that the retailer provides “insufficient” information about the sustainable nature of its “sustainable style” collection.

For instance, there is no information given to the consumer to state if a garment is based on five per cent recycled material or 60 per cent. This is just one example of claims which cannot be followed through with evidence.

As depressing as this article may seem, there are actually many companies (usually smaller brands) who are not guilty of greenwashing, to make themselves seem more eco-friendly and ethical than they actually are. Sadly, many of these are not available on our high streets. As consumers, we have the power to call out and boycott brands who are guilty of greenwashing.

Every purchase you make is your chance to raise your voice for accountability, sustainability and transparency.

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