Let's talk about greenwashing...

Updated: Mar 29

As the industry, the media, me, you…the world, become more and more aware of the environmental impact of our lifestyle and buying choices, the relevant jargon is also becoming more and more popular. Words like ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco-friendly’ are thrown around and the meanings are becoming increasingly blurred. Don’t get me wrong, here at Wild Strings we use these words too, but I like to think that we go a long way in trying to define them – or at least what they mean to us. However, we’re not the only ones using these words, many large brands are jumping on them and using them to ‘greenwash’.

So, what actually is greenwashing? Coined by Jay Westerveld in the ‘80’s (yep! It’s really been happening for that long…), it defines the practice of making misleading and/or unsubstantiated claims, by companies, to present an environmentally responsible public image.

Definition of Greenwashing: Behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company. is doing more to protect the environment than it really is - quote

Basically, companies make up fake news or overmarket their environmental benefits to appeal to the eco-conscious among us and to sell more stuff. Growing up, I was always taught not to believe everything I read – which was exceedingly difficult for child with an overactive imagination, who loved to read. Yet, it meant that I always tried to read beyond the headline and read varying opinions on the topics that interested me but I realise that eco-friendly fashion isn’t at the top of everyone’s interest list. This is why greenwashing annoys me so much, as it hugely affects the transparency of the brand and means that even those who are trying to improve the sustainability of their lifestyle are being misled into buying from big fast fashion brands. Greenwashing basically allows brands to benefit, whether it be profit or reputation, by exaggerating their positive impacts.

Take Zara for example…their CEO, Pablo Isla, recently announced a commitment to sustain a kit that will see the brand using entirely recycled, organic or sustainable fabric by 2025. The question is, however, can a brand which thrives on disposability and high trend turnover, truly be sustainable?

I am conscious not to be too critical of this pledge, as I don’t think we can demand change from big retailers and then pull them to pieces as soon as they actually do something positive. My problem comes with how this has been pushed and used, in some ways, to distract from the clear fact that Zara, and other similar businesses, continue to overproduce unnecessary amounts of clothing of poor quality and durability, therefore continuing their fast fashion reign, just with ‘better’ fabrics. As Anika Kozlowski says in a great article for The Fashion Law, “the fast fashion business model, in particular, is the very antithesis to sustainability, and yet, fast fashion retailers continue to claim efforts related to sustainability”.

Clothing tag with advice for avoiding greenwashing
Image via @project_stopshop

It’s not all bad though! There are brands out there who are truly driving change and increasing their environmental responsibility. Brands like Raeburn, whose brand reworks surplus materials and products into completely new designs, and Patagonia, who run their own repair, share and recycle platform “Worn Wear” to increase the life of their products, are leading the way in recycling and longevity. The clothing brand Volcom has also just launched a ‘Water Aware’ denim collection “which will see the brand reducing its water consumption by 40 percent, an estimated 4 million litres, by the end of the year”. All of these brands prove that there are parts of the industry who are pushing the boundaries of sustainability and not just over-egging their positive environmental impacts. In fact, these brands surprisingly go under the radar at times in the ‘race to sustainability’.

But what can we do? Yeah, I hear you over there at the back wondering what on earth this has to do with you. In all honesty, it’s up to you how far you go in terms of shopping ethically and fighting the ‘greenwash’. My first tip is to check out the website, Good On You. It’s a blog come rating system with an easy to use app which rates fashion brands on their environment, labour and animal welfare ethics, so check out your favourite brands on there! They also have some great blog pieces on responsible fashion (if you’re not completely done with it by the end of this one!) 

Next tip is to think about your shopping habits. Don’t buy from fast fashion brands because nine out of ten times you're contributing to the rigmarole of the quick shop, quick drop attitude and purchasing a really low-quality garment which probably exploits labourers, the environment or animals! Instead, shop second-hand. Have a look in your nearest charity shop or venture into that vintage shop you’re always been too scared to try. Second-hand garments are unique and have a story behind them – so it’s a win/win. If you buy new, buy made to order from companies like us! Made to order means that the company isn’t making more than is sold, which reduces raw fabric and stock waste. It is a slightly slower approach to shopping, but it means you’re getting a better-quality garment, which will last longer and be unique to you!

There is plenty to do to help avoid the ‘greenwashers’ and it’s important to point out that ‘greenwashing’ isn’t all negative. I really think we can use the trend to make positive change and widen consumer consciousness about social and ethical issues. For the brands who are ‘greenwashing’, let’s hope that it is a precursor to real change. In the words of Orsola De Castro of Fashion Revolution;

"The true antidote to greenwashing is knowledge – be curious, find out and do something."