When the wise philosopher Kermit the Frog revealed to the world the inherent difficulties with being green, we wasn't lying.
As we approach PLASTIC-FREE JULY, the rise of conscious consumerism placing such pressure on large companies to improve their supply chain so that further environmental damage can be alleviated, the majority of attention has turned toward the fashion industry who has had a lovely tidal wave of green spill onto it's shores.
The phrase "greenwashing" was first coined back in the 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld who identified misleading advertising by companies to appear more socially and environmentally mindful. Years later, the attempts to profit of ethical movements is still happening but in such a way as to bolster a brand's ethos.
H&M have become the pièce de résistance of greenwashing. With all the chatter surrounding fast fashion and it's undeniable contribution to pollution (second biggest polluter behind oil), H&M became the fast fashion protesters' poster-child when accusations of the company destroying 4.3 billion dollars’ worth of unworn clothing each year was revealed. With new collections boasting greener, more organic, nature-esque dreams, H&M have yet to convince onlookers that they understand the meaning of ethical and sustainable fashion when only 1-25% of their production facilities pay their workers a living wage. Wasted clothes, products are unsustainably mass produced, and workers aren't paid; green's begging to look like bullshit brown.
Kate Hall, the eco guru @ethicallykate, states
"greenwashing is the business practice of putting more resources into telling the world you are doing something good for the planet, than actually implementing those eco-friendly processes." Kate adds that "greenwashing tends to involve excessive promotion of one green aspect, to mask the downfalls of another."
Annie Newton-Jones, who's work at Tearfund has shed light on the extent of ethical processes within fashion brands, believes greenwashing is really dangerous, both for the consumer and companies:
"because greenwashing is often done through emotive, flowery language it’s often makes a product seem really appealing to the consumer making it difficult to tell the difference between a company that is Greenwashing versus a company that is acting with integrity."
Lizzie Turner, found & designer of MANE Project, agrees saying
"We all want to believe what we want to believe especially if it’s something we really want. There’s a bit of a fork in the road with greenwashing - some people believe it blindly because they want brands like H&M to be ethical so that it’s easier on the conscience to purchase from. Then the other side of the fork is that because of an awareness of greenwashing, consumers are actually asking more questions and wanting greater levels of transparency so that they can trust a brand which is really awesome."
Being a designer, Lizzie sees greenwashing as "expected".
It doesn’t make it any less frustrating, but it’s to be expected. Anywhere that big corporations can see themselves making more cash, they’ll move in that direction. That’s not to say that real efforts have been made to improve ethical standards in some of these big corporations, but when actual changes are possible, it makes you wonder how much of this is a marketing opportunity for these big corporations."
So, how do we avoid it?
Kate says "if a company is trying to sell you a moisturiser in an awesome recyclable bottle, don’t let your hunt for information stop there. What’s the moisturiser made from? Is there another option for a refillable bottle instead? Never stop asking questions.
Do your research before you buy, don’t be conned by cuddly lambs, watch out for wishy-washy language, and stick to your gut. Your consumer ethics are unique, and it’s ultimately up to you where you put your money.
Annie shares the same sentiment adding "I think it’s always key to do your own research no matter what you’re told. It’s a pretty good life lesson actually, as we’re often quite reluctant to do the hard yards and really investigate things ourselves, and are more likely to pass on information we’ve barely looked into. Although Greenwashing is difficult to spot, it’s not impossible. Don your critical thinking skills and get to work! If you’re not able to gauge any of the above from the information a brand provides, don’t be afraid to get in touch with them directly and ask questions! If they’ve got nothing to hide, they won’t hesitate to give you information on their practices, and provide you with some good detail. If they don’t respond or if they do, but their response it vague, be wary. The more you investigate, the better you will become at spotting false green products
Finally, Lizzie rightfully reminds us that "we are on our own learning journey" but an easy way to identify greenwashing when there are major gaps in the ethics in the supply chain - like only organic fabrics being used for instance and not mention of living wages. Ideally, there should be clear authenticity in caring about people, the planet and their product."
Please make sure you check out each of these AMAZING women's work - you will get inspired, I know I did