Greenwashing: identifying fast fashion ploys and propaganda
“We’re the most aware of these issues but we’re also the most advertised to”: the challenges of being sustainable in a fast-fashion climate
Need some retail therapy? How about a new outfit for that party at the weekend? Next time you’re out shopping for new clothes and retail pick-me-ups, take a look at the labels on the clothes you’re browsing. Ever noticed a green label or a “20% recycled materials” sticker and thought to yourself: they must be doing some good for the planet? Here is where the lies begin. An environmentally friendly colour palette to draw you in and the use of ecological jargon that implicates climate-conscious branding, is, for the most part, where the fast-fashion ploy resides.
The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee released some devastating statistics that predict by 2030 global apparel consumption is projected to rise by 63% - which is equivalent to more than 500 billion additional t-shirts on our planet. If you think about the detrimental effect that garment manufacturing is having on the planet for us now. Add seven years of chemical pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, mass cotton farming with harmful pesticides and so forth and then re-think the effects.
Fast fashion emissions are set to double by 2030. But this is only if current growth continues. Surely that paints enough of a picture for fashion conglomerates, yet sales continue to increase and outlooks remain the same. If fast fashion companies are aware of these issues, they're hiding well behind green incentives and plastic ploys.
According to a recent report by Changing Markets, a staggeringly low percentage (7%) of people regard sustainability as a key criterion when purchasing new garments; with things like high quality, looking successful and receiving good value for money, all sitting at higher percentages. This is exactly what big high street corporations are seeing when sitting around trying to decide how to market their newest products. How can we target those who want to be sustainable whilst maintaining the attention of those who are concerned with economic or materialistic factors? If this is the tactic, then how are we ever going to be able to distinguish between fast fashion and climate activism?
Drew Manning, a Greenpeace employee and environmentally enthusiastic student told us that “there is a gap in awareness to action” where young people have the drive to practise sustainable consumerism but there is a discrepancy in the numbers for fast fashion shopping. If fast fashion brands like H&M and Primark use marketing methods like greenwashing, our society's young people and wannabe activists will be more inclined to buy first-hand, thinking it is doing good for the planet. He says that students are the most aware of climate issues and yet they engage with consumerism more than any other generation because they are marketed to the most. There’s a steady correlation between wanting to be actively environmentally friendly and believing in greenwashing tactics that “tell them that they are doing something good for the environment but unfortunately, that is not the case”.
Follow these easy steps to identify greenwashing:
Imagery of plants, nature and the colour green can be used to connote eco-friendly branding but green doesn’t always mean sustainable.
Pay attention to the wording! Don’t be fooled by fluffy language. Words like eco-friendly and sustainable can be misleading.
Keep an eye out for sustainability certifications - or lack thereof.
However, there is hope on the horizon, for some young people like Drew are bridging the gap for our generation. He shops secondhand where plausible, eats a vegan diet, doesn’t support companies that greenwash; has a mindful attitude when it comes to supply-chain processes and products. Simple actions like these are small steps in individual improvements that are being made easier and easier each day.
Think about how you can subtly adapt your day-to-day life to be more sustainable. Remember Marie Kondo? Why not put an eco-friendly twist on her efforts to declutter your space by up-cycling or mending items that you have already, instead of throwing items away? The saying is reduce, reuse and recycle - not just recycle. So perhaps give your older clothes to that crafty friend of yours and get them to turn your textiles into something completely new.
We acknowledge that issues like high costs and failure to keep up with so-called trendy products are important in buying second-hand/slow fashion for younger generations and students, who are more likely to be faced with financial difficulties.
These problems pave the way for small businesses like ‘Reworked by Lyds’ - an online vintage and reworked pieces clothing store - with a focus on ethically traded garments and authenticity, in terms of sustainability. All garments on Lydia’s site are around the affordable £20 mark and she picks apart collections to ensure that pieces follow current trends. Lydia Johnston opened her store online over lockdown after she was furloughed from her 9-5 and so a focus on affordable fashion was key for her. She said in conversation with us that,
‘vintage clothing is a funny little way of recirculating older textiles for younger generations, and to me that feels very sustainable.’
Emerging sustainable small businesses like Lydia’s and climate campaigns are making it easier for the general public to not only spot false climate activism but shop in a more eco-friendly-conscious way.
Avoid fast fashion, shop green where possible and fight for systemic change.
Let me put this into perspective for you, the 2019 Pulse Score, shows that the fashion industry has improved its social and environmental performance since 2018 – yet at a slower rate. Despite this improvement, the fashion industry remains far from sustainable. Something as small as extending the life of clothes by just 9 months of active use would reduce carbon, water and water footprints by 20-30% each. As expertly put by Drew Manning,
‘we have a responsibility to our planet, to maintain it for future generations and for the sake of other species, so we need to be more mindful. If we just apply a thought towards the earth in every action we do, then we won’t be that far off. ‘