“Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your own family to read. If you tell lies about a product, you will be found out…”
– David Ogilvy
Misleading promises, Misplaced claims, Misinformation leading to emotive issues & causes, just to look good for Business gains, are age-old ‘dirty practices’ of some really aggressive advertising.
Today’s consumer, Millennial and more so ‘Gen-Z’, is well informed and aware of the issues directly affecting her future, in terms of ecological & environmental sustainability. In order to reach out to the ‘ever-so-conscious’ Gen-Z consumer, who wants to stay socially & ecologically ethical, Brands have been indulging in ‘smart’ advertising by inserting key-words such as: Eco-conscious, Eco-friendly, Environmentally-friendly, Sustainable etc.
American environmentalist Jay Westervelt, in 1986, coined the term ‘ Greenwashing ’, for such practices where a particular Brand or Corporate resorts to misleading claims suggesting that it cares for the environment and it’s products or business practices are socially & ecologically more ethical than they actually are. Basically, Greenwashing is a blatant lie, wrapped around smart polemics, misleading the customers to believe they are buying eco-friendly and Socially sustainable products.
According to Oxford English Dictionary, Greenwashing is defined as “dissemination of misinformation by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.”
Fashion business, specifically fast fashion apparel, is one of the most polluting businesses among other industries, in terms of Carbon Emissions. As per a report released by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), prior to COVID-19 pandemic, Fashion business alone is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, which exceeds all international flights and shipping put together. It is therefore only logical that the incidents of Greenwashing are that much more rampant in Fashion industry. Examples of other industries that routinely resort to Greenwashing are Hotels & Hospitality, Bottled drinking Water, Real Estate & Housing, Energy & Gas, Banking & Finance etc.
Global leaders in Fast Fashion are the ones to Greenwash routinely to showcase their efforts towards containing ‘social & environmental cost of fashion’. Here are some of the examples:
Adidas’ Design for Environment gear;
Gap’s P.A.C.E. Program, to benefit lives of female workers;
H&M’s Conscious collection, made of organic cotton and recycled polyester;
Puma’s biodegradable InCycle Collection;
Zara in Feb 2017 was called out for Greenwashing and paid a million US Dollars in claims.
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This finally begs the Question: how does one identify a brand or a promotion is Greenwashed? Devil is in the Details. So without getting distracted or impressed by the ‘delightfully vague’ language and key-words, one just needs to look out for specific details. If the specific details such as numbers, certifications, factual data or any such information is missing in the communication, it is perfectly safe to assume a clear case of Greenwashing. Some more pointers to identify Greenwashing are as follows:
A) Vegan is now ‘delightfully’ being used for materials that are synthetic alternatives to Leather. These are not sustainable materials from any stretch of imagination, as they are not biodegradable. Real Leather, on the contrary, is more sustainable and bio-degradable as compared to these cheap Vegan alternatives. So, Vegan necessarily doesn’t always mean Sustainable.
B) Natural is yet another key-word most frequently used as Greenwash cover. Natural fibre, just like Vegan (faux leather) materials, is not always Eco-friendly and sustainable. For example, Viscose that passes as natural fibre, is responsible for taking away a huge amount of green cover off mother planet, as 150 million trees are supposed to be chopped off every year for its production, only to feed ever growing demand of Fast Fashion. Unless Viscose fibre is sourced from a certified source, which means more expensive. Fast Fashion pricing clearly is not able to afford that extra cost of sustainable Viscose.
C) Certifications: There are independent industry-standard certifications and these are fairly good metrics to verify and avoid being a victim of Greenwashing. Some of the certifications worth mentioning as follows:
D) Finally, always look out for ‘Made in…’ labelling details, as to who made your clothes. Brands are becoming increasingly transparent with respect to sharing details of their production centres. More the information, lower the chances of Greenwashing.
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There are some positive stories of great efforts being made towards making a real difference and moving to a more Socially & Ecologically responsible Fashion as well, for instance,
Indian Terrain partners with Fairtrade India for a sustainable capsule collection. Homegrown menswear brand Indian Terrain is partnering with Fairtrade India to create an exclusive, sustainable clothing line that is good for the environment along with empowering Fairtrade farmers in Gujarat.