Greenwashing – How Ethical is Fashion in 2021?

With the switch to a more sustainable fashion model becoming a pressing concern within society, the way brands are positioning themselves is more important than ever before. Fashion brands are trying to align themselves with a ‘sustainable’ approach by putting more emphasis on traceability – advocating for a positive ethical model by making changes that will benefit the environment.

Whilst some brands are making huge steps in the right direction, there are still some brands that are simply ‘Greenwashing’. This refers to companies making false claims in relation to their sustainability or evading key factors within their processes to make them seem more ethical than they really are.

The most important thing within a truly sustainable fashion business is evidence – reports and data that back up their claims and provide traceability in terms of supply chain management including accountability for their workers and suppliers as well as any sustainable materials being used throughout.

Greenwashing relies on misinformation and misunderstanding. Many individuals are not aware of the amount of damage that the fashion industry as a whole has on the environment and because of this, they do not fully understand why certain brands may be inherently negative.

This means that when brands talk about how sustainable they are – consumers will likely believe them as they do not think that they could be harming the planet as much as they are. This allows certain brands to get away with Greenwashing customers – with 83% of citizens feeling mislead by green and sustainable buzzwords in advertising.

What are brands doing?

Currently, there are some brands within mainstream media that some consider to be greenwashing. The most notable one is Scandinavian retailer H&M – with multiple critics pointing out the flaws in their Conscious range which utilises recycled and sustainable materials.

If you were to think of fast-fashion and sustainability at once, H&M would be the majority of consumers’ first thoughts. This is because they have done a lot over the past few years that would suggest that they are moving to a more circular model.

Yet, there are still issues with their ‘sustainability’. Even though they are using innovative materials such as Pinatex within their Conscious range, this is an extremely small portion of their business, and they have been criticised in the past for destroying $4.3 billion worth of clothing as well as not paying garment workers enough.

This is the definition of Greenwashing and something hopefully the brand moves away from in the future by focusing on reducing their carbon footprints.

Slow changes against Greenwashing

There are many fast-fashion brands worldwide, many of which are promoting their so-called ‘changes’, but the most important thing to consider is that in order to lessen the impact on the environment, Greenwashing has to be abolished so that real improvements can be made.

The change to complete traceability and sustainable fashion is not likely to happen all at once. Therefore, slow changes can be made by brands including being more honest and ensuring that everything they claim to be doing is 100% true.

It is not necessarily a negative thing to work slowly, as many brands will have far more changes to make than others. In fact, all changes in the right direction (no matter how small) can be considered positive.

For example, stopping production altogether for brands such as Boohoo or Pretty Little Thing due to their low prices and poor quality materials would actually be unsustainable for multiple groups of people – especially low-income people who rely on brands like this, as well as the garment workers who rely on their wages to live.

However, currently, for Boohoo or Pretty Little Thing to call themselves sustainable would be considered Greenwashing – as they have very unethical production processes.

Therefore, they would have to keep making small changes over a long period of time so that they can reach a more sustainable model, or simply remove any branding claiming ‘sustainability’ to make sure that consumers are not being tricked into buying from these brands.

The new regulations

As of Summer 2021, Greenwashing is being tackled by Europe’s governments, with new regulations coming into place to try and ‘level the playing field’ by making it much more difficult to get away with.

These regulations – labelled as the Taxonomy Regulation – will stop businesses from making vague claims and will require them to provide all of the necessary information when highlighting their sustainable and ethical progress.

The initiative requires all of Europe to move together, including the UK who will have to work closely with the EU to maintain the right laws needed to implement the process. This means that brands cannot gain an advantage in one country, and will require them to change their behaviours.

These changes will allow for smaller, more green businesses to thrive and set the standard for sustainability within the industry. Hopefully allowing customers to feel more at ease with their purchases and will show bigger brands how much they value transparency and honesty in relation to sustainability and our environment.

In order to transform the industry into a truly sustainable entity, brands should fulfill the sentiments they are already claiming they are doing through green marketing, working with the new regulations instead of against them to continue down a more ethical pathway.

This will mean that eventually, we will have a more sustainable fashion industry with more regard for businesses carbon footprints and how this will impact our future.


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