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Don't Be Fooled: How to Spot Greenwashing in Clothing Brands

Written by: Cassandra Osborn



Time to read 4 min

Greenwashing in clothing brands is a sneaky practice that can often leave consumers feeling duped. But fear not, savvy shoppers! This blog post is here to help you spot the telltale signs of greenwashing and make more informed decisions about your wardrobe choices. You don't need to be an expert in materials or supply chain intricacies. A little critical thinking with a dash of common sense and you've got all the tools you need to fight back against the very clever marketing ploys of some brands. 

So, let's dive into the world of eco-friendly fashion and learn how to differentiate genuinely sustainable brands from those just looking to cash in on the green trend. You'll soon be an expert in spotting greenwashing.

Definition of Greenwashing

Greenwashing is a marketing tactic used by companies to make products appear more environmentally friendly, or less environmentally damaging than they really are. This can include vague or misleading claims such as "all-natural" or "eco-friendly" without any explanation or certification to back up these claims. It can also involve cherry-picking certain environmental practices to highlight while ignoring other larger issues. Ahem fair wages anyone? Anyone?

Why Greenwashing is a Problem

Greenwashing is a problem because it misleads consumers into thinking they are making environmentally conscious choices when they are not. This can lead to a false sense of security and prevent consumers from making more impactful changes in their purchasing habits. It can also undermine the efforts of companies that are genuinely committed to sustainability by making it more difficult for consumers to distinguish between real and fake claims.

It's important to be aware of greenwashing and learn how to spot it in order to make truly informed decisions as a consumer. In the following sections, we'll explore some common tactics used in greenwashing and how to identify them.

How to Spot Greenwashing in Clothing Brands

Graphic image of a brand label which gives instructions on how to greenwashing.
Image from ​​Google.

Not all claims are accurate, based on fact, or true. The art of decerning fact from fiction requires us to take a little step back and use our critical thinking skills. Don't solely rely on Google.  Google likely has an answer for everything in a quick "5 steps to... " article, however, I'm here to remind you that it's faster and sometimes easier to use your intuition, judgment, and a dash of critical thought.  

1. Look beyond the buzzwords.

Greenwashing often involves using vague or misleading language to make a product or service appear more eco-friendly than it really is. Look out for buzzwords like "natural," "green," or "eco-friendly" without any further explanation. Don't be fooled by marketing hype and dig a little bit further. Have they defined sustainability, what do they mean by all-natural or green. Is there information you can easily find that gives you confidence in the claims? Here are 3 sneaky terms that come up often in labels that easily lead us down the prickly garden path.

🚩Biodegradable. Biodegradable means nothing other than it will degrade over time. Doh! This term should not live in your brain as synonymous with better for the environment. These products may not have been made in a sustainable way and if biodegradable products end up in landfill, they will still give off greenhouse gases

🚩Environmentally Friendly. Did you know this term has no real legal definition and can be claimed for even the weakest reasons? This term needs a benchmark to mean anything. So next time you come across it, ask yourself, environmentally friendly compared to what?

🚩Hand Made, Hand Crafted, or Artisanal. This one really gets my goat - especially as it relates to fashion. When we're talking about how clothing is made, 99.99% of garments are made with a person sitting at a sewing machine. The more important question to answer here is were those hands paid a living wage. If you want to know why living wages is fundamental to the sustainable fashion movement, we wrote an article about that too. You can find it here.

2. Check fabric compositions.

This is usually the first place I go every time something piques my interest. What's in it? Unless you're buying technical gear ask yourself whether the polyester/acrylic/rayon or other petroleum-based fiber content is really necessary. If it is not added for performance, then it's simply added to reduce the cost. Third-party certifications from reputable organizations can help you distinguish between genuine eco-friendly products and greenwashing. Look for labels like USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, GOTs Certified, and GRS Certified which have strict standards and verification processes. One important thing to remember here is that you can get certifications for different stages of the process. Your original fibers can be Organic Cotton, but once they've been spun into yarn, woven into the fabric, dyed, and finished the end result may not be that rosy. 

3. Investigate the company's track record

Before buying from a company that claims to be eco-friendly, do some research on their environmental practices. Look for information on their website, social media, or third-party sources. Do they have a sustainability report or a history of environmental initiatives? Looking at a product's content is a good start, but sustainability involves people too. A product cannot be sustainable unless the people making it were paid a fair wage. 

4. Compare with alternatives.

Don't assume that a product is eco-friendly just because it claims to be. Compare it with similar products on the market and see if more sustainable alternatives are available. Consider factors like energy efficiency, resource consumption, and waste reduction.

5. Don't fall for green packaging.

Companies may use eco-friendly packaging to make their products appear more sustainable than they really are. While greener packaging is a step in the right direction, it's important to look beyond the exterior and examine the product itself.

A word of caution. In the same way that not all products are created equal, not all people have the same needs. Purchasing decisions are based on a number of factors and considerations which makes this conversation very nuanced.  Judgment and comparison kill progress. We need critical thinking to lead us to good decision-making.  When you layer your personal needs atop critical thought it becomes easier to decide whether you're genuinely happy to support a brand that's eco-friendly or whether you've been duped. 

I hope you enjoyed this article and learned a little bit about how to make informed choices. If you're curious about our sustainable strategy, you can find more information here.

If you want to know the industry's worst greenwashing offenders, head to this article.

Leave a comment below and let me know what you learned.