Identifying Greenwashing: How can we know if a company is sustainable?

With more and more people wanting to make responsible choices when they shop how do we distinguish between brands that are good for the environment and brands that use sustainability for profit.

Imogen Clarke
22nd November 2021

So, I stumbled into H&M this week and accidentally bought a top. When I got it home I noticed this green label. And it got me thinking, is this Greenwashing? It’s not something I had ever really considered before (I know I should!), but are brands like H&M capitalising on the new public interest in sustainability?

Yes, the climate crisis has largely been caused by capitalism and consumerism, and yet the impending doom of it all is still being used for profit. Many customers are now directly opting for more sustainable clothing options, but it’s difficult. Brands are steering their marketing and branding towards sustainability, fooling us into seeing past their reckless business practices .

An Advert for the brand Reformation (Image Credit: Instagram, @KafandCompany)

Take this label for example, H&M are using the colour green to make people think subconsciously “oh, this must be good for the environment”. I may have been guilty of this! It’s very clever when you think about it. However, a bit of googling from me has revealed that (although the company LivaEco do produce viscose ‘sourced from certified sustainable forests’) H&M still produce most of their clothes in China, Bangladesh and India. The top I’m wearing now says ‘made in Turkey’! We all know that this isn’t environmentally friendly (think of the air miles!) And don’t even get me started on the lack of fair wages. Look at the silly little “Recycled Paper” box on the label too. This is good, but they are clearly just using that to distract from the harmful environmental practices. And there you have it- greenwashing.

If we shop smart, and don’t buy into ‘trend pieces’, we can help solve the problem. So, the moral of the story is, buy less!

This top from H&M is just one example. And I am guilty of buying from green washed companies, we all are. However, in my opinion, such garments are only ‘fast’ if we make them so. H&M do some great basic pieces, and if we buy wisely, we can get wear after wear out of them. And thus our fashion becomes slower. So, we don’t necessarily need to avoid all companies that greenwash. If we shop smart, and don’t buy into ‘trend pieces’, we can help solve the problem. So, the moral of the story is, buy less!

But how do we know if a brand is greenwashing? The app called “Good On You- Ethical Fashion” provides a rundown of the environmental impact of 3000+ brands. Online brands such as PrettyLittleThing only rank 1/5 for obvious reasons, but they aren’t even pretending to be “green”. Brands such as Reformation get a 4/5, but obviously you pay a lot more for the pleasure! Unfortunately, if a cheaply priced high-street brand is claiming to be environmentally friendly, they’re probably greenwashing- at least a little bit!

Feature Image Credit: Unsplash, @CherieBirkner

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