Greenwashing - What it is, who does it, how to avoid it.

You mean to say that companies think next season's color is green? Nope. They are trying to make you THINK it's worth spending your "green" on their bullshit. 

Yeaaa...this might be a bit more aggressive than the average AndAgain blog but that's fine. Who likes reading normal, fluffy stuff over and over anyways? We don't. 

So, greenwashing. It's happening quite a lot lately. Probably more than ever. "Eco" this, "waterless" that. It is honestly all you hear lately and we are pretty fed up with it. Specifically, greenwashing entails the misleading of consumers towards a product or service's environmental friendliness. Basically, how good, or more so how "not bad" something is that you are about to buy. 

This is especially important when considering the fashion industry due to how far you can go with the current lack of regulations or standards for what can or can't be used as a marketing and sales tool. According to Fast Company and a independent study by Terra Choice, over 95% of products for sale are green washed. 95%! With these products, companies often greenwash them in similar ways: 

  1. No proof
  2. Hidden trade offs of "eco" efforts
  3. Smoke and mirror tactic (ie: using a prius to deliver coal)
  4. Wayyyyy too vague
  5. False labeling
  6. Irrelevant claims to the actual product
  7. Straight lies. 

These tactics spread far and wide into the fashion industry and we are here to tell you how they do it, why they do it and what you can do to avoid them. So, please be ready for some bold claims, potentially some hurt feelings if you're attached to any of these brands and hopefully a new train of thought when it comes to buying clothes. A big step, we know.

 Image via Getty Images

Image via Getty Images

Today's fashion giants will heavily promote the efforts that they take towards sustainability, however minor these actually are in the comparison to the vast amount of damage being done elsewhere by that same brand. Seemingly the quintessential example within the industry: H&M. What is undoubtedly one of the "fastest" fast fashion models is seemingly more and more clouded by their green marketing efforts. They are a member of the Better Cotton Initiative, offer a clothing recycling program (we will explain in more detail soon) and even claim that they are making strides by using renewable energy for a portion of their supply chain. All in all, these efforts are minuscule in comparison to their entire business structure. Not to mention once the clothing is made and does not sell, the company burns the large majority of their left overs.

Potential Solution: Hire better supply chain managers and logistics people to develop a demand prediction model that actually functions. Could help with the whole burning clothes thing.

H&M is not the only brand that accepts clothes for their "recycling programs." For example, Zara and their parent company, the worldwide giant Inditex, recently claimed to be starting a program as well called Closing the Loop. The program offers customers the opportunity to drop off their used garments in-store or through the mail in order for their clothes to "gain a second life."

Little do most people know, is that the large majority of time this donated clothing then enters into the worldwide stream of second hand trade. More often than not, from here the clothing is simply sold to bulk clothing distributors who bail it all up, send it on a container ship to developing nations overseas where the clothing is sold in second hand clothing markets. These very markets in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa for instance, are responsible for the collapse of locally based clothing trade and textile producers. It is estimated that only 10-15% of donated clothing is actually resold within the same country that it is donated in. Don't forget the environmental impacts of the transportation efforts dedicated to moving everything halfway around the world countless times per year. Much more information regarding the global second hand clothing trade can be found in Andrew Brooks' book, Clothing Poverty. It is a fascinating topic, seldom finding discussion from the nations creating the issue in its entirety.

Have you ever seen clothes that are claimed to be made from bamboo or include organic bamboo materials? Even worse, has someone ever tried to convince you that their socks are saving the planet because they are made from the very same? Well, this is not true, even in the slightest. 

Numerous brands are green washing the hell out of bamboo. Aligning the packaging and marketing tactics to floral greenery scenes, animals or eco-friendliness in general is commonplace to push this product past the due diligence of consumers. The due diligence that would uncover an obvious truth regarding bamboo production and sale of bamboo based apparel. 

Almost always, bamboo apparel is sold as "organic bamboo." There is literally zero clothing that is made from true organic bamboo. The materials being used for this production is actually rayon created from bamboo fibers. If these wondrous socks were made from solely organic bamboo, they would be extremely course and most importantly not have been processed using carbon disulfide as a solvent. 

"Ah yes let me take some of that carbon disulfide for my feet for the day!"

-No one

Not to mention that more than half of the solvent boils off during the process, simply into the air. Even though all of this is true and that rayon requires twice the amount of energy to produce compared to already not so great cotton, the trend of bamboo based clothing and apparel is still running strong. So, next time you are about to overspend, or spend at all, on something claiming to be great for the environment by using organic bamboo, or bamboo based anything, remember the fact that rayon is actually not that great, very terrible in fact.

Changing opinions on the greenwashing efforts of today's fashion giants will take time. Actions such as those listed above within the clothing industry need to come to an end, quickly and for good. Think if all of the greenwashing marketing budget these companies have was spent within their sourcing or production departments to find ethical manufacturers and support positive change? Seems too good to be true, far away and unrealistic. We agree, but small steps will eventually lead to a broad, new pace for everyone. 

As a stepping stone into your new shopping mindset, check out the Good On You App, which rates brands and stores based on how sustainable they are. Also, utilize this tool to find other similar brands to support and purchase from that are truly making an effort for the better.


Greg Harder