Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Sustainable. Eco-friendly. 100% Recycled. Commitment to green. These are all phrases you might have seen or heard as the want for greener products rises. Companies market their products this way to draw in more customers to buy their products, making them believe they are making a positive impact on the world around them.
Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. Despite putting attention grabbing phrases on their products that promote green practices, the companies fail to do much more than grab your attention. Oftentimes the statement on the product is just a ruse, and the company does nothing differently on their end. This practice is called greenwashing, and it’s something that many companies are guilty of, especially in the fashion industry.
There are a few ways to spot cases of greenwashing. A thing to check for is vague statements such as “Environmentally friendly”, “Ethical”, and “All-natural.” These sound great and imply the company is making efforts to adapt its practices to a greener world, however, they are just there to make you (the consumer) feel good about your purchase.
Here are a few cases of greenwashing in recent times:
In 2017, BMW released a Facebook ad for its i3 electric car. The car was marketed as a “zero-emissions” vehicle, but it came with the option to add a small petrol engine. BMW also claimed that purchasing the vehicle would be like “giving back” to the environment. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled this advertisement as misleading and banned the ad in its original form.
H&M is a well known fashion industry giant, and even helped coin the term “circular fashion,” albeit ironically, since the brand is known for its fast fashion. H&M creates the illusion that they are sustainable through methods such as their Conscious Collection clothing line and their in-store recycling rewards program. I:Collect, the company that sorts through H&M’s recycled clothing, states that only 35% of what they collect is even recycled at all. Read more about H&M's greenwashing.
Back in April of 2018, Nestle released a statement stating their ambition to make their packaging 100% reusable and recyclable by 2025. They were met with extreme criticism as most of their outlined goals were vague and unconcise, and they seemed to put most of the responsibility on their customers to clean up their mess. In 2017, Nestle was identified as the world’s worst polluter after a beach cleanup in the Philippines revealed that 17% of the litter collected was Nestle products. Check out the case study here.
There are a lot of companies that greenwash, but that doesn’t mean all is wrong in the world. There are companies out there that are truly sustainable and environmentally friendly. Examples include Patagonia with its high quality and long lasting products, and Stella McCartney, known for its use of recycled and organic materials. Stella McCartney also reports yearly on its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.
There are ways for the consumer to find truly sustainable companies. Research is always the first step in doing something new, and the same is true when attempting to shop sustainability. Look for clear and concise reports from companies with specific data on things such as their impact goals, carbon emissions, environmental achievements, etc. Also be on the look out for B Corp certification, certification given to for-profit companies “that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose” (bcorporation.net). Check for other certifications from the USDA, Green Seal, and/or the Non GMO Project.
Fun Fact: UP Cycle Design's goal is to be a certified B Corp someday!
Hopefully this gives you a basic understanding of greenwashing, how to identify it, and what you can do to shop for truly sustainable products. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below! Have you noticed any greenwashing recently? Do you have any tips to be a true sustainable shopper? Feel free to share any examples or insights you might have! We will see you next week on The Upcycled Thread!