Approximately, 85% of the whole clothes produced ended up landfills each year. That’s a whopping 92 million tonnes of fabric waste discarded. Some of that fabric waste even ended up in the sea. It’s no secret that textiles contribute a significant portion of the overall waste that humans produce. Textiles are also responsible for 10% of global gas emissions and a little over 20% of global water waste. Behind all that, some corporate giants are responsible for the piles of discarded clothes, one of them being the fast fashion industry. As they’re trying to come clean, more often than not, they sugarcoat the harsh reality by putting up misleading or even false statements about being environmentally responsible and sustainable. This is what we call “Greenwashing”.
Before discussing it further, it’s important to understand why textiles and fashion industries are a massive threat to the environment. First and foremost, the structures. Most clothes and textiles are made out of cotton. Some are made out of polyester and other synthetic materials due to their lower price. These materials alone are rather hard to degrade, thus making it non recyclable. In a real piece of clothing, various materials are being used. Fibers, a blend of plastics, elastane, metal for the button, the lost would go on. The varieties of materials in a clothing item makes it extra hard for it to be recycled. Moreover, the process of separating each material is very costly. That being said, only 12% of clothes in the world got recycled because fast fashion companies could not spare any more pennies on recycling, if they keep on selling products on such low price tag.
The term greenwashing was first introduced back in 1986 by Jay Westeverld. He encouraged hotel customers to reuse their towels to minimise water waste. However, the definition of greenwashing has evolved overtime. Nowadays, it is often used as a marketing strategy by putting up misleading and false statements, creating the persona of a ‘green’ and environmentally responsible company. This practice is widely used by fast fashion companies to disguise how their fast-paced manufacturing process is hurting nature. Greenwashing is a serious matter as it takes advantage of the awareness rising about ecological welfare among societies. It misdirects customers with good intentions into doing the same detrimental action. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any clear law that regulates these actions, and numerous giant companies are still implementing the following method.
You’ve most likely witnessed at least one form of greenwashing throughout your whole life. You may have experienced it without even realising it. The so-called ‘7 sins of greenwashing’ list down the common ways companies used to mislead their customers.
1. Hidden Trade-Off
When the claim is made by using a small set of eco-friendly aspects whilst at the same time neglecting the other issues that are as harmful. The common example is when companies claim to be eco-friendly by substituting plastic bags with paper bags. Paper bags are made out of wood, which promotes deforestation – a phenomenon that is just as harmful as plastics
2. No Proof
When the claim is made without providing clear and accessible evidence to support that. You might see it in form of percentage such as ‘Contain at least 50% recycled material’
When the claim is made using terms that are too broad, and require more explanation, but is not provided. The commonly used term is ‘Sustainable sourced’ while lacking in transparency on how the process is carried out
4. Worshipping False Label
When the claim is made by implying third party fake endorsement or certification. The endorsements are often made from environmental organisations, namely Greenpeace, WWF, etc.
When the claims made are not relevant to the current condition. Claims like ‘CFC gas free’ would no longer be relevant as CFC has been banned by the law
6. Lesser of Two Evil
The type of claims that come up when a slight improvement is made, but neglecting the main issues and the harm it causes to the environment. One common example is “20% less carbon emission than the older version”
When the claims are just blatantly incorrect. It’s like saying clothes require no fabrics
Though this inevitable phenomenon, there are plenty of actions that can be done as a wise consumer. First of all, it’s essential to be aware of such phenomena and how it takes place, so it’ll be easier to spot one. Whenever you see a ‘green’ tag, make sure to be extra mindful. Secondly, investing in a quality product is much more worthy than purchasing a cheap fas-fashion item that would be torn before you even realise it. This is due to the fact that it’s designed to only last for a short period of time. Lastly, you could always shop less or even thrifted some second-hand items, which definitely is gaining popularity among Gen Z’s.
So, the next time you see “All Natural”, “100% Biodegradable”, “Chemical Free”, “Sustainably Sourced”, pack your wallet, run home, and do you research!
Written by: Regina Natalia
Seymour, E (2021) What is greenwashing?. Goodhousekeeping. Retrieved on 25 May 2021, from https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/a32191077/what-is-greenwashing/
Watson, B. (2016) The troubling evolution of corporate greenwashing. The Guardian. Retrieved on 25 May 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/aug/20/greenwashing-environmentalism-lies-companies