Climate Change, Fashion

Greenwashing and Big Brands – How Reliable are Companies to the General Public?

Greenwashing: A problem which, unfortunately, is increasingly prominent in the textile industry. As consumer pressure drives the want for sustainably produced garments, companies are failing to match the standards they claim to be setting.

According to Ethical Consumer, greenwashing is the “practice of companies launching adverts, campaigns, products etc. under the pretence that they are environmentally beneficial, often in contradiction to their environmental and sustainability record in general.” In simpler terms, companies pretend to be doing a lot more to reduce their environmental impact than they really are.

This causes many issues for the environment.

Firstly, mass environmental damage caused by the production of fast fashion continues. According to Vogue Business, the textile industry in 2018 produced 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, which equates to about 4% of all global carbon emissions. Secondly, companies are knowingly getting away with lying to consumers in order to profit off the back of a morally good cause. For any person concerned with how their shopping habits impact the planet, this undoubtedly decreases consumer confidence in a brand – making sustainable shopping even trickier than it already is.

Perhaps the most shocking part of greenwashing, however, is just how common the practice is. Carbon emissions specialists, Carbon Responsible, recently undertook a report calculating how successfully 48 major high-street and high-end brands implemented their own sustainability claims. Shockingly, they uncovered that out of the 48 brands, only 18 publicly released their emissions performance. Even then, it was often out of corporate reporting compliance requirements rather than goodwill. Out of all the brands that used sustainability as a clear part of their brand identity, fewer than 50% had any reports on emissions. Only five looked to aim for net-zero emissions entirely.

Despite what many people would view as poor statistics and a lack of true commitment to environmental matters, these brands are continuing to fill their marketing campaigns with eco-conscious language. Phrases such as “recycled material”, “responsible collection” and “sustainable fabric” continue to be littered across websites and storefronts. Without any solid proof of these ventures, these words are left feeling incredibly empty, used as another way for a company to build a great PR image to the unaware public.

The good news is that reports such as Carbon Responsible’s are helping to raise awareness of the impacts of greenwashing. Even better, they are starting to hold these companies accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). Unless the true extent of a brand’s environmental changes are uncovered, how can the eco-conscious consumer really support sustainable fashion?

Of course, buying second-hand, vintage, or swapping clothes are great options for those who want to build a sustainable wardrobe. However, these steps do little to limit the bigger problem the fashion industry has with excess carbon emissions, caused almost entirely by large manufacturers. In addition, not everybody is ready to give up their old shopping habits. It is simply unreasonable to expect the consumer to change a habit fed and supported by the same corporations who claim they are making a difference. Sustainable aims and changes made by powerful corporations will ultimately have a much bigger impact than our small changes ever will. Greenwashing is therefore a dangerous trend, and one that should not be ignored.

I personally remain hopeful that we can implement large-scale change. However, this all begins with major corporations, not the everyday shopper. Asking for more sustainable options and keeping our favourite mass clothes producers accountable can only do so much. These changes obviously cannot be implemented overnight, but some transparency as to how and when they actually will go ahead would make a huge difference to our confidence in the clothing industry. Producing credible stats and figures that keep to an ambitious emission decreasing target is only the first step of many that needs to be taken.

It may be a lot to ask for, but how can change go ahead if we don’t keep our aims high? After all, nobody’s love for clothes is important enough to justify killing the planet.

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Elizabeth Woor

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September 2021
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