Popular clothing brands H&M and Shein have recently come under fire for ‘greenwashing’. But what is greenwashing and how can we spot it?
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is the process of making a product seem more eco-friendly than it is. This can take the form of exaggerated claims of sustainability, or outright lies.
These claims help to persuade consumers that they are doing the right thing for the environment by shopping with their brand, and in the wake of the war on fast fashion, can help brands retain their customers and profits.
42% of all companies sustainability credentials have been found to be exaggerated, false or deceptive.
This makes it increasingly difficult for us to shop with sustainability in mind.
Luckily, brands often leave little clues that can help us to identify misleading claims.
How Can We Spot Greenwashing?
Brands will often use vague language that sounds eco-friendly in their marketing campaigns and on clothing labels to trick consumers without explicitly stating how their product is ‘green’ or ‘eco’.
The Let’s Do It Foundation found slogans such as ‘sustainable practice’ and ‘we do things small’ on the Shein homepage in 2021.
Shein also falsely claimed to be ‘ISO-certified’.
The International Organisation for Standardisation is a non-governmental organisation that investigates standards such as working conditions and sustainability.
Newspaper Reuters were quick to highlight that an organisation cannot be ISO-certified, because the ISO does not offer certificates.
The ISO instead recommends that brands should refer to products by their official ISO standard.
Brands can also manipulate statistics to make it seem that they are doing more to combat the carbon impact of their production.
Apple has stated that their products were made with 50% more recycled materials in 2022 than 2021.
This increase may seem promising, but actually only means that 18% of the materials in 2021 products were recycled or reused.
Apple tend to release iPhones yearly, meaning many will ditch their old gadgets for the latest edition, a wasteful decision that Apple perpetuates and encourages.
As obvious as it may seem, brands have been known to literally ‘greenwash’ products by changing the colour of their packaging.
The Coca Cola website boasts that their 'goal is to make 100% of our packaging recyclable globally by 2025, and to use at least 50% recycled material in our packaging by 2030’.
New Coke bottles also sport a green band around the bottom of the label.
What Coca Cola fails to mention is that they are the world’s biggest plastic polluter currently.
So, What Can You Do?
Brands place a big emphasis on the role of the individual in tackling climate change.
This helps them to mitigate their own responsibility to reduce their emissions, and place pressure on you to purchase their ‘eco’ products.
Because we all want to do our part, we fall for schemes like ‘greenwashing’, but there is an easier way!
Try shopping for clothing, and more, second-hand. You can do so on sites like Depop, Vinted, or in your local charity shops.
Donate old clothes and products to friends, family or charity shops.
Be mindful of whether you really need as many clothes and products as you are purchasing.
Try a capsule wardrobe, only buying pieces that match the rest of your clothes to reduce over-consumption or buying clothes in outfit sets.
Realistically, this may not be possible for everyone. The best thing we can do is take companies claims to be ‘green’ with a pinch of salt.
Search for their credentials online, visit their websites and see if any of their claims are backed up with evidence, or certified.
To sum it up, be mindful of what you buy, and where you buy it from.