What is Greenwashing in the Fashion Industry? (2022)

Written by José Max Lin
Last updated
September 2, 2022

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and it is estimated that only 1% of clothing is recycled. The production of clothing uses a tremendous amount of resources and energy, and the vast majority of clothing ends up in landfills where it will take centuries to break down. The fashion industry is also responsible for a tremendous amount of water pollution, as the textile industry is one of the top polluters of freshwater sources.

While some companies are working to make their operations more sustainable, greenwashing is still rampant in the fashion industry. Many companies use greenwashing as a way to distract from their unsustainability or to sell products that are actually harmful to the environment.

Podcast: What is Greenwashing in the Fashion Industry? (2022)

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the act of making false or misleading claims about a company's environmental policies or practices. It can be done deliberately to make a company appear more environmentally friendly than it actually is, or it can be done unintentionally due to a lack of understanding about what constitutes as greenwashing.

woman recycled shopping bag

Types of Greenwashing

There are a few common types of greenwashing that fashion brands engage in. Here are a few examples:

  • Using misleading labels

Some brands will put green labels on their products, even if they are not actually eco-friendly. For example, a brand might put a label that says "made with recycled materials" on a product, even if the percentage of recycled content is very low.

  • Making unsubstantiated claims

Many brands make claims about their products being eco-friendly without any evidence to back it up. For example, a brand might claim that its products are "carbon neutral," even though there is no way to verify this claim.

  • Hiding the truth

Some brands will try to hide the negative environmental impacts of their products. For example, a brand might use green packaging to make a product appear more eco-friendly, even if the product itself is not sustainable.

Greenwashing examples

Several fashion brands and retailers have been accused of greenwashing in the past or recent years. Here are a few examples:

  • H&M (Circulose fabric)

H&M announced that they will be replacing their cloth with Circulose, a new type of fabric made from up-cycled clothing and fashion waste. The company has plans to only recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030 in an effort for sustainability within the industry as well!

  • Boohoo (wool coat)

Wool is a fabric that has been around for centuries and it's time we put an end to the abuse! Boohoo originally planned on ban all wool clothes but then changed their minds hours later.

  • & Other Stories (production claims)

& Other Stories disputes the idea that its products are manufactured under Swedish labor protection laws. In reality, after they're designed in Sweden but produced across China, Bulgaria, and Bangladesh as well.

  • Primark (child labor scandal)

The Primark's low prices are possible because it sources its products from the poorest countries, and now offers a line of denim made only out 100% sustainable cotton sourced in India & Pakistan.

  • Zara (vague sustainability claims)

Zara’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact have been insufficient. By 2020, the company pledged using eco-friendly materials like “organic cotton, recycled wool" and Tencel, but isn't enough when it still has a terrible track record on the environment outside of those things.

  • SHEIN (unconvincing strategy)

Chinese retailer SHEIN recently hired ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) officers for a positive sustainable move. They attempt to portray themselves as "concerned" with sustianability, but with an entire business model built on labour and environmental exploitation.

What products are Greenwashing?

Many companies use greenwashing as a way to sell products that are actually harmful to the environment. Some common examples of greenwashed products include:

  • "Eco-friendly" cleaning products that contain toxic chemicals
  • "Natural" cosmetics that are loaded with synthetic ingredients
  • "Sustainable" clothing made from synthetic materials
  • "Recycled" products that are actually made from virgin materials
  • "Organic" food that is grown with synthetic pesticides
recycled fabric cotton

How many products are Greenwashed?

According to a study by the University of California, Berkeley, as many as two-thirds of all clothing items sold in the United States are greenwashed. Greenwashing is the marketing of products as environmentally friendly when they are not. Many fashion brands engage in greenwashing to make consumers believe that they are doing their part to help the environment when, in reality, their products are not sustainable or eco-friendly.

greenwashed textiles

The study found that the majority of clothing items sold in the US are made from synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon, which are derived from fossil fuels and release harmful chemicals into the environment during production. Furthermore, most clothing is shipped long distances before it reaches consumers, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Why are brands Greenwashing?

Although greenwashing can damage a brand reputation, fashion brands still engage in greenwashed products for a variety of reasons:

  • Effective marketing strategy

Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the environment and are looking to purchase products that are eco-friendly. By greenwashing their products, brands can tap into this growing market and increase sales.

  • Avoid large investments

Greenwashing allows brands to avoid making changes to their products or business practices that would require significant investment. It is cheaper and easier to simply market products as eco-friendly than it is to actually make them sustainable.

  • "Positive image"

Greenwashing allows brands to distance themselves from the negative environmental impacts of the fashion industry. By promoting their products as environmentally friendly, brands can create a positive image for themselves, even if their products are not actually sustainable.

Why is Greenwashing a Problem?

Greenwashing is a problem because it misleads consumers into thinking that a company is more environmentally friendly than it actually is. This can lead to people supporting companies that are not actually doing anything to help the environment.

Greenwashing can also make it difficult for consumers to know which products and companies are truly eco-friendly. When everyone is claiming to be green, it becomes harder to tell who is actually making a difference.

say no to greenwashing

Finally, greenwashing can be used to distract from a company's negative environmental impact. For example, a company might promote its recycling program while simultaneously using excessive packaging or using unsustainable materials. By promoting its recycling program, the company is able to make consumers believe that it is taking steps to reduce its impact on the environment, when in reality its overall environmental impact is still negative.

How to avoid Greenwashing?

The best way to avoid greenwashing is to educate yourself about what it is and how to spot it. When you are considering purchasing a product, take the time to research the company and see if there are any claims made about the product that you can't verify.

You can also look for independent certification labels, such as the LEED label for buildings or the USDA Organic label for food products. These labels can help you know that a product or company has met certain standards for being environmentally friendly.

USDA US department of agriculture

Finally, remember that you have the power to vote with your wallet. When you purchase products from companies that are being truthful about their environmental impact, you send a message that you support sustainable businesses. This can help encourage other companies to be more transparent and make real changes to become more sustainable.

How to find Green products?

If you are looking for sustainable fashion products, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • When shopping for clothing, look for labels that indicate the percentage of recycled content or organic materials used.
  • Look for brands that are transparent about their business practices and use sustainable materials.
  • Check for certifications from third-party organizations like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or the Fairtrade Foundation.
  • Research brands to see if they have been accused of greenwashing in the past.

The Bottom Line

Greenwashing is a serious problem in the fashion industry. Many brands engage in greenwashing to make consumers believe that their products are eco-friendly, even though they are not. As a consumer, it can be difficult to avoid greenwashing. The best way to avoid it is to educate yourself about the issue and to research brands before making a purchase.

HANDBAGIO product specialist
José Max Lin
I am product specialist and content marketing specialist for Handbagio. If you want to wholesale vegan handbags or vegan related products, feel free to ask me any questions.
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What is Greenwashing in the Fashion Industry? (2022)

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