Companies engage in greenwashing when they portray themselves as more sustainable than they actually are. Using false claims, vague terms, and misleading imagery, they attempt to create a green image with the goal of enticing consumers to choose them. Think of beautiful campaigns featuring models in earth-toned clothing, looking serene in nature, accompanied by generic terms like 'sustainable' and 'for a green future' - all while the brand is a major contributor to fast fashion industry. Often, these are brands that have little commitment to sustainability or only do the bare minimum required by the industry but actively communicate otherwise.
Greenwashing is alarmingly common
The term 'greenwashing' was first coined in 1986 by Jay Westerveld, an American environmental activist. He combined the words 'whitewashing' and 'green,' specifically focused on the environment. Greenwashing exists in all sectors and unfortunately occurs very frequently. For example, Changing Markets published a research report in 2021 called Fossil Fashion, which revealed that 59% of the examined companies made unsubstantiated claims. 46% of the companies made very vague claims, and 1/3 made strong claims without any supporting evidence. Many companies are accused of presenting their collections as sustainable while they do not truly embrace solutions.
Greenwashing can occur at a conscious or unconscious level. Fast fashion giants often know exactly what they are doing, using experienced marketing teams to operate on the edge of what is allowed (conscious), while smaller brands may make claims without fully understanding the implications (unconscious). Regardless, it remains the responsibility of brands to inform consumers honestly and comprehensively so they know what their money is contributing to.