How To: Spot Greenwashing

How To: Spot Greenwashing

This blog will be exploring why so many brands are getting behind buzz words like ‘sustainability’ and ‘green’ and how to tell whether these claims are genuine or just a marketing stunt.

What is greenwashing?

Okay here’s an example of greenwashing- a t-shirt has a label front and centre, saying in bold writing that it is ‘Sustainable Organic Cotton’. This could lead you to think- ‘oh wow this is a sustainable product’.

However in reality, the garment might only be made from 5% organic cotton and the rest conventional cotton or polyester (which is made from petroleum). Although it has organic cotton present, it could have been made in unfair working conditions for poverty wages. This ‘sustainable organic cotton’ claim now turns out to be quite misleading and even worse- could be omitting or hiding important information. 

As outlined in the Green Claims Code, greenwashing can be when claims are unclear and ambiguous. The term ‘green’ for example- could mean a great variety of things from making the most minimal effort to being completely regenerative and circular. 

Using vague ‘green’ terms can be innocent, but it is also chalking up your sustainability endeavours to something more than it is. For example when a large brand like H&M promotes widely their conscious range and sustainable fabric, when in reality they are using mostly fabrics made from petro-chemicals- it's not really making much of a difference- quite the opposite.

The scale of the problem is widespread- a European Commission study from 2020 found that more than 50% of examined environmental claims by brands in the EU were vague, misleading or unfounded and 40% were unsubstantiated. 


The problem with the word ‘sustainable’

Some have said that using the word ‘sustainable’ as a term is arguably misleading. The UN definition of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

This is challenging in our current society used to taking from the environment as if it is never ending resource. Often the most sustainable thing to do would be to make nothing at all, which in the modern world is almost impossible.

But if brands are open, more specific and transparent about their progress and pitfalls, and use less blanket terms like ‘sustainable’, customers have a much better idea about the genuine efforts each brand is making, making the playing field much more level.


Why do so many opt for buzzwords over genuine change?

The long and short of it is, that customers care about sustainability and are showing this with their wallets. A 2020 Mckinsey report said that over 60% of customers would pay more for something if it was sustainable. So when businesses' main purpose is to turn a profit- it looks like good business sense to be sustainable - or at least appear like you are.

New Rules

There is new legislation coming in, The European commission is cracking down on brands claiming that they’re ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ and that claims will need to be independently verified and proven with scientific evidence.

In the UK, The Competition and Markets Authority have also committed to tackling misleading environmental claims. Asos, Boohoo and Asda are currently being investigated (since Jan 2023).

If brands are found to be greenwashing then the relevant authorities could take enforcement action.


The need for transparency and responsibility

Take our initial example of the  “Sustainable Organic Cotton’ T-shirt, the more responsible action would be to state clearly the exact quantity of organic cotton that was present, and substantiate their ‘sustainability’ claims.

This is where accreditation and certification comes in. Organisations like GOTS and Fairtrade  help independently verify these claims and their strict requirements means brands need to provide evidence to back these up in a robust and credible way. 

As a customer you want to see proof that the brand is actually making moves to be more responsible and not just saying they are. 

When we as brands are honest, crystal clear and communicative and we take action- it’s then that we can start to make real change. 

As Fashion Revolution put it, “We can’t change what we can’t see”.

Read more about our certified organic cotton and manufacture here. We’d love to hear from you, so don’t hesitate to reach out to with any comments or further questions.