Greenwashing: an explanation and a solution

“You have to hold yourself accountable for your actions, and that’s how we’re going to protect the Earth.” – Julia Butterfly Hill

If you’ve been active in the slow fashion world or have kept up with sustainability industry news, you most likely have heard of greenwashing in some shape or form. The term highlights an issue that has only grown with the public’s awareness of climate change and human impact on our environment. If anything, the term was created because of it, an occurrence that sought to pander to the newly green of us who did not know better, which is why it’s so important we do.

For those who may not know about or how to tackle greenwashing, today, we tell you more about what it is, why it’s an issue we need to address, and how to avoid falling prey to it.

What is greenwashing?

To start, here’s a clear definition:

Greenwashing (a compound word modelled on "whitewash"), also called "green sheen", is a form of marketing spin in which green PR (green values) and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organisation's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.”

Simply put, a business may claim to have and use sustainable processes/systems without actually doing so or they exaggerate the extent of their conscious actions. All in all, it’s a dishonest practice that hinders a very important cause, that being to make actual positive, eco-conscious changes that can really make a beneficial impact on our planet.

How is it harmful?

In terms of the history of greenwashing, the concept is not all that new and has been an existing phenomenon since the 1980s but has, naturally, become an escalating issue with more brands adopting green initiatives (whether greenwashed or not) with public concern for the environment also increasing throughout the years. A 2020 study stated “From 2009, there has been a 51–59% increase in consumers who prefer to buy sustainably produced product,” so with that concern, businesses were urged to meet that demand and so lies the two major reasons as to why it’s a cause for concern as well. Firstly, it breeds public confusion, secondly, it hinders actual progress to further sustainable design and circular economies.

With these reasons in mind, what this results in is that environmental issues are not approached appropriately although many do want to make more conscious choices, greenwashed initiatives and products from often larger organisations get undue attention which then misleads many well-intentioned consumers who could instead be giving their time and money to those actually doing green good.

A quick reality check

There have been quite a few occurrences of greenwashing in recent years that you may or may not have heard of, some of which involve the biggest names in fashion. Though it’s not a term that is solely used to address those in the fashion industry, fashion has definitely taken centre stage in recent years due to many consumers growing more aware of the environmental impact of fast fashion.

A notable example is H&M. The large conglomerate and fashion brand found itself just last year coming under fire in the public eye for being accused of greenwashing. Their well-known conscious line, that they claim uses sustainable materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester, came under scrutiny when they were not able to disclose just how these materials and their processes were better for the environment.

To put it in perspective, a better example of a brand with conscious initiative is Patagonia. Generally well-known to be green, they have a history of  environmental activism which gained a lot of trust with their customers and, moreover, they detail their actions on their website where they are transparent on how it's beneficial to the planet.

We ourselves at SUI take great pride in keeping ourselves accountable publicly by sharing our journey on our about pages, through this blog, and our social media platforms as well as having open conversations with our community (or grewen heart-ers as we like to call them). The key is to provide the details and share information because much of the problem is, as this article perfectly sums up:

 “A lack of a standardised and legally binding framework to govern the information brands have to disclose has given them the ability to describe their own sustainability-led initiatives, marketing campaigns and capsule collections. The result is a selective and, at worst, misleading picture of what effective efforts really look like.”

However, this is getting better as time goes on and the demand rises for better accountability.

How to stay aware

The real danger with greenwashing is the spread of misinformation. After all, if we are not given the correct information to understand how our actions are harmful, we can never grow greener and our communities and planet suffer at the hands of it. Like mentioned previously, it can only breed confusion.

Knowledge is our greatest power and there are a number of ways we can avoid being misguided. To start, these are the perfect questions to address a brand that make sure you are trusting the right brands:

  • What materials do they use and how much information do they share about these materials? (where, how, etc)
  • Do they detail the steps within their systems to ensure they are eco-conscious?
  • Do they tell me who makes their product?
  • How are they supporting their communities?
  • Do they list any certifications that ensure their processes are sustainable?
  • What values do they share as a company?
  • What other green initiatives do they practice such as packaging, waste disposal systems within their production, and so on?

And if this information is not available online or on any of their platforms, reach out and ask them directly - not only will there be a possibility of clarification but it also urges them to be more transparent on more public mediums.

Detailed information on a brands website is a great sign that it’s trustworthy and many green businesses will mention their certifications too. For example, we mention that our organic cotton is GOTS certified and disclose who our sources are throughout our ‘about’ pages here. Other ones that you can look out for are:

For a more detailed guide on certifications, you can read more on our blog: Your Guide to Eco-friendly & Ethical Labels.

The key is research and being more aware for the most part so, we hope this helps you understand how you can be a better conscious consumer and guides you on your green journey. Let us know what other similar green topics you would like us to talk about and how you liked this post. Have a wonderful weekend and, as always, stay green!