Recognizing Greenwashing

NL Sustainable Fashion Circle
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Recognizing greenwashing is not easy, especially for larger brands that know how to craft their messages well, with campaigns developed by experienced marketers who understand psychology and legal loopholes. However, you can develop a critical eye:

Understand what sustainability entails

If a clothing brand claims to be very sustainable but seems to have blind spots regarding what sustainability truly entails, that's a red flag. Sustainability is complex and extensive. In the fashion industry, sustainability encompasses, the business model, material use, working conditions (throughout the entire supply chain, not just in the final factory), transportation, quality, timelessness, water and energy consumption, promoting conscious consumption, and much more. You can see that if a brand is known for its fast, trendy collections made from synthetic materials and calls itself 'sustainable,' it clearly does not understand sustainability.

Brands that engage in greenwashing often focus on a small aspect within the spectrum of sustainability and exaggerate it. It's not okay to label your collection as 'sustainable' if it's only made from better materials. It's better to state that the collection "is made from more sustainable materials."

Be critical of vague terms

The vaguer a brand is, the harder it is for people to hold them accountable. Brands are aware of this. Although politics and the ACM are becoming increasingly critical of vagueness, it still happens frequently. If a company uses all-encompassing terms like 'sustainable,' 'conscious,' and 'a better future' to describe itself, you should be critical. Truly sustainable companies understand that '100% sustainable' doesn't exist, and they will describe their goals, milestones, where they fall short and unique selling points in much more concrete terms.

Look for concrete, measurable evidence

This is the most crucial aspect of recognizing greenwashing: evidence. Can a brand substantiate its claim with measurable things, such as numbers or certifications? It's nice that a brand says it produces under fair working conditions, but are there certifications, reports, or other information that support this?

For example, Google the campaign and check the brand's website for a campaign page. What is being said there, and, most importantly, how comprehensive is it? Does the brand go into detail? Is there good background information available about the product, the production process, the people making the clothes, or what the brand is doing in terms of sustainability? If a brand isn't transparent and doesn't share 'hard' facts like numbers and production locations anywhere, that's not a good sign.

Check for information accessibility

Brands must present the evidence for their claims in an easily accessible manner - that is, within a few clicks or actions. The information should not be buried deep in a complex data document.

Perhaps the claim isn't directly substantiated, but there is a link or QR code to a place with good information. Where does this link lead, and do you genuinely find the answers you're looking for, or does it remain vague? A good place to check is the brand's website; after all, it's the place where it can put all the information it wants. Is there a Sustainability/Responsibility page, and do you find all the answers there? Does the brand have a Sustainability Report that supports the claim?

Ask critical questions

If you're still not convinced, ask critical questions to the brand (for example, via email). Why isn't the brand clear? Do they have numbers? Also, the way you get answers can provide information. Is your question answered in-depth and with attention, or are you dismissed with generic statements? The latter is a red flag.

Check here the 7 sins of greenwashing: the most common forms of greenwashing.

Have you spotted what you believe to be a greenwashing campaign or claim from a brand or shop and wish to get support in investigating the claim or simply want to report it?

You can do it in a few simple steps here.