Our planet is in trouble. We’ve known about the climate crisis for some time, and now more than ever is the time for collective action. But there’s an appalling marketing practice used by many companies worldwide that impairs our abilities to make environmentally friendly consumer choices. It’s deeply unethical because it misrepresents the ecological impact of the brand. It’s concerning because it undermines people’s attempts to change their lives in ways that will help prevent further global warming. The tactic is called ‘greenwashing’ - making a company or its products seem more environmentally friendly than they really are. To stop the green wool from being pulled over your eyes, here are three key things to look out for to spot greenwashing in action:
1. The language of sustainability is used vaguely. Companies use a wide range of words that may make themselves seem environmentally minded when in fact their practices harm the environment. ‘Natural’ products aren’t always good for the planet (cotton is natural but the production of conventional cotton requires large amounts of water, chemicals, and causes soil erosion). The term ‘Biodegradable’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the plastic won’t release harmful gases in the degradation process, degrade quickly in a diverse range of natural environments, or is designed to be compostable.
A truly sustainable company committed to green practices will have detailed information about their practices available on their website. A good example is Kowtow, whose website explicitly outlines their organic cotton farming process, use of environmentally friendly dyes/washes, responsible sourcing of sustainable materials, packaging details, complimentary repair process, and take-back programme.
2. Only a small part of the business is actually eco-friendly. An increasing number of companies are launching green initiatives (think H&M’s Conscious Collections or ASOS’s Sustainable Sourcing Programme). While it’s absolutely crucial that big companies do make increasing commitments towards improving their practices, it’s just as important to be aware that these sustainable aspects of these companies are but a fraction of the overall business model. As Well Made Clothes posted regarding greenwashing practices in the fashion industry in a recent Instagram post, “although this small but highly publicised offering may be composed of more environmentally friendly fibres, or made by people paid a living wage, the lion’s share of that company’s output remains inherently unsustainable.”
3. The business encourages the purchase of new products. This one is a little hard to avoid, as many businesses are fundamentally based on a model of making and selling new products. However, even if the company has excellent values and practices, it’s important to remember that resources, energy, packaging, and transportation are all still necessary for these products to be created and find their way into your possession.
Usually, the most environmentally friendly way of acquiring things is to get them second hand - the shiny green ideal, afterall, is ‘circularity’. A circular economy is based on a system that doesn’t produce waste or pollution, creates products that are kept in use (ideally forever), and regenerate natural environments (e.g. via composting at the end of items’ lifecycle).
To support the movement towards achieving circularity, consider buying things second-hand whenever possible. The second-hand economy is growing and improving every day, so you’ll almost always be able to source whatever you need (and at a significantly cheaper price than buying new). Before opting to purchase something new, make it a habit to routinely ask friends and family if they have the item to spare, then check places like Trade Me, recycled clothing stores (Tatty’s Designer Recycle even has an online inventory search), op-shops, and garage sales. The world (and your bank account balance) will thank you for it.Support Villainesse