Fashion + The Circular Economy

Five Tips to Spot and Avoid Greenwashing

Two years ago I stumbled into an H&M and found their conscious collection. As a student, their low prices and promises of eco-friendly products really appealed to me and I ended up buying an item. A few weeks later, articles started coming out accusing the brand of “greenwashing.”

Greenwashing is where a brand uses marketing techniques to make an item seem more eco-friendly than it actually is.

As we attempt to transition into a circular economy, this practice can be particularly harmful as customers are more likely to spend more on an item that they believe to be sustainable. So, the companies continue to thrive whilst damaging the environment.

Here’s five tips to save your money and the planet.

1. Opt for transparency

If a brand isn’t being clear on where it sources its materials, then there’s probably something they don’t want you to know.

Some popular high street brands have come under fire for not being clear enough on just how sustainable a product it. In 2019, the Consumer Authority (CA) in Norway stated that H&M’s portrayal of it’s sustainable collection breeched Norwegian marketing laws. The company was quick to respond that it was the clarity of its information which was lacking, not the actual sustainability of its clothing.

Instead of being caught out, why not choose to buy from brands who give precise information on their products off the bat and avoid potential greenwashing?

Check out The Fashion Transparency index for more information on individual brands.

2. Don’t accept half steps

Whilst having a small sustainable range looks positive, it also means that the rest of the clothes probably aren’t. Typically, the clothes in this range will also be easy to manufacture like cotton t-shirts and so the brand isn’t as innovative as it seems.

H&M is one of the biggest buyers of organic cotton and yet it still only accounts for 13.7% of total garment production. It’s fair to say brands like this can do better.

As consumers we can hold these companies accountable and add to the potential circular economy by choosing to call out brands and avoid shopping from them until they improve.

3. Don’t trust targets

Companies can make whatever targets they want – this doesn’t mean they need to actually stick to them. Unless they have given evidence that steps are being made towards achieving these targets, take them with a pinch of salt.

Zara has pledged that 100% of their cotton, linen and polyester will be sustainable by 2025. While this sounds positive, only spend your money on brands who provide evidence that they will achieve this target.

4. Don’t contribute to consumer culture

Consumer culture is the biggest obstacle to the circular economy.

By doubling the life of your clothing from one to two years reduces emissions from up to 24%. Instead of buying an item you will only reach for during one season, buy a staple item you will want to wear again and again.

Social media websites like Instagram promote this consumer culture, creating short-lived trends. To cash in on current trends, brands will try have a quick turn around on popular items, meaning cheap unsustainable materials and unfair conditions for workers.

Remember, the fashion industry recycles trends all the time. If your item isn’t all over social media right now, this doesn’t mean it never will be.

If you are tired of your old items, take it into your own hands. Customise and rework your own pieces. It will save you money, give you a fun new hobby, and you can wear new items you can be proud of.

Check out this article for more information on reusing old items.

5. Shop second-hand

Making sustainable items, is still very bad for the environment. Second to oil, the fashion industry is the biggest polluter in the world. So why not use the pieces already made to their full potential of 100 to 200 wears?

Charity shops are a great way to do this as you can also give back to the community. One great online charity shop is Thrift+. You can give away your old clothes in exchange for credits towards the site, or donate the money made from selling your clothes to a charity of your choice.

Consumers in the UK have an estimated $46.7 billion worth on unwanted clothes in their wardrobes. So, why not sell directly to the customer to ensure your clothes are going to a good home, using sites like Vinted and Depop? This is a great way to put your old unwanted items back into circulation.

What now?

While greenwashing became a popular topic in 2019, it is not going away anytime soon. In January this year, the European Commission found that half of green claims were false.

The clear path towards a cleaner planet is with circularity. Do your bit and shop consciously.

Don’t fall for greenwashing like I did.

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