Have you seen Mad Men? Then you’ll know what Greenwashing is.
You might have heard the term thrown around recently in relation to the ‘Conscious Collections’ of fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara. However, the term greenwashing isn’t solely reserved for the fashion industry, in fact, it was coined back in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld and encompasses any company, organisation or corporate business that’s essentially putting a Don Draper spin on something to make it look better than it is. As Roberta Lee of the Ethical Brand Directory says:
It’s a lot cheaper to invest money into an advertising campaign for your new “ethical” range than it is to actually do things properly, which includes paying your workers a fair wage and offsetting your carbon footprint as well as just making the garments out of recycled materials.
I think the problem is that for us humans, whilst we’re trying to do our bit for the environment we’re also wired to naturally take the path of least resistance. So whilst we might be wandering down Oxford Street with good intentions to avoid shopping, we see something pretty in the window of a shop that has a “conscious collection” label on it we’re likely to quickly justify that it’s fine to buy, rather than confronting the real truths.
Greenwashing exists because there is a huge amount that a brand needs to do to actually be considered green and eco-friendly. This not only involves using sustainable, renewable and recyclable raw materials but also who made the clothes? How they were treated? Is the packaging and shipping sustainable? What were the clothes dyed with and was the process handled responsibly? Are they using carbon offsetting to offset and environmental impact they’re having that’s seemingly unavoidable?
At the end of the day there’s one reason that stands out as to why these “committed” and “conscious” collections will never work: The amount of garments they produce is obscene and could never be considered sustainable. We are currently producing 80 BILLION pieces of clothing per year, which is 400% more than the amount we consumed two decades ago. (source: True Cost Documentary)
There are a few useful tools that I personally use when I’m in the market to buy something new, which these days is rarely:
1) Go through the check list above and make sure you can answer all those questions about a brand before you buy.
2) What kind of fabrics/materials/chemicals are they using and where do they source them from?
3) Do they have certifications or a transparency statement on their website?
4) Do they pay their workforce a fair wage and what are the working conditions?
5) DO I REALLY NEED THIS???? The fashion industry contributes to around 10% of global Greenhouse Gas emissions, which is more pollution that the aviation and shipping industries combined.
Point 5 above brings me to my final argument: The most sustainable clothes are the ones we already own, the ones our friends own (go play swap!), and the ones we can up-cycle, mend and continue to wear and love. I find the best way to get out of the cycle of needing things is actually just to not look in the first place. Ban yourself form procrastinating online and go straight past the clothes shops while you’re walking without looking - you’ll really only feel like you “need” something when you’ve seen it.
Stay oblivious, stay sustainable.