Environmental consciousness is on the rise and increasingly, efforts to be more sustainable influence our purchase decisions. Accordingly, household names like Asos, boohoo, H&M and ZARA, have adapted to the growing green agenda.
Buzzwords like “eco-friendly”, “sustainable range” and “energy efficient” are omnipresent. Sustainability has become big business and greenwashing is the fashion industry’s latest marketing strategy. Coined by environmentalist Jay Westervelt, ‘greenwashing’ describes false claims of environmental responsibility, enticing consumers to make misguided purchase decisions.
Recently, the Changing Markets Foundation investigated the sustainability efforts of some of the largest fashion brands and retailers, from ASOS to Louis Vuitton. Adopting the UK Competition and Markets Authority’s guidelines on green claims, the study found that 59% of products accompanied by a sustainability claim did not meet guidelines, with H&M and ASOS among the highest offenders. H&M’s attractively labelled “Conscious Collection” was discovered to be in fact less conscious than its main collection, with a higher percentage of fossil-fuel derived synthetics.
Greenwashing allows brands to escape taking responsibility for environmental damage and the fast fashion giant, SHEIN, is the latest brand to exemplify this practice. Recognising their products may wash up on Ghanian shores, SHEIN pledged to donate £12 million over three years to target the waste crisis in Ghana. A gesture which has been regarded as “truly revolutionary” by Liz Rickets, director of the Or Foundation, a charity supporting waste workers in the region. This lip service, however, simply allows the company ‘to continue with business as usual’ perpetuating a throwaway culture, in which people are encouraged to buy more and more, and therefore, discard more and more.
Indeed, as Rickets vouches, brands should be encouraged to pay their debt towards the waste crisis. However, efforts need to focus on targeting the crisis at its source. As the Changing Markets study articulates, the fast fashion business model relies on ‘continued fossil-fuel extraction in the midst of a climate emergency.’ Produced quickly and sold cheaply, products are often discarded after a few uses, as trends change, and clothes become ever more seasonal.
How can we avoid greenwashing? We’ll struggle, with green claims going largely unchallenged.
How can we find truly sustainable brands? The answer is simple. We can’t. All production has a heavy cost on the environment.
So, where do we find clothes that don’t take such a heavy toll on the environment? Well, we can start by asking ourselves if we need something new. Sustainability can start at home, by using products we already own. We can fashion ourselves a new look with some old favourites perhaps.
Otherwise, we can shop secondhand. By extending the life cycle of clothes, we reduce consumption, reduce our dependence on scarce resources and reduce waste.
And, in doing all of this, we reduce our carbon footprint. Last year, TRAID diverted over 3,015 tonnes of clothes from landfill and incineration, reducing CO2 emissions by almost 29,000 tonnes and saving 4.8 million litres of water. Sustainability starts by rejecting this constant demand for new products. We can choose to style what’s already been produced. This is targeting the environmental crisis at its source and its aftermath. This is sustainable retail.