The Weekly Journal | Sustainability

By Gark Parkinson- July 1, 2022

Greenwashing

The Impact On Sustainable Fashion

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

How do you know that the labels on fashion products are accurate? How can you trust a brand’s claim to produce apparel using only environmentally friendly materials? As it turns out, those eco-friendly claims made by many leading figures in the fashion industry are merely a misleading example of smoke and mirrors.

Greenwashing is an ongoing challenge in the fashion space. People are becoming more knowledgeable about the differences between fast fashion and sustainable fashion, and most environmentally conscious consumers shop for the more sustainable fashion trends. They have pure intentions and want to make a difference in the world. The challenge for these shoppers lies in trusting the information they’re told about how the apparel is produced.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a term used to describe companies that knowingly mislead consumers with marketing and packaging information on their products. Labels indicate that products are manufactured using eco-friendly materials but, in reality, those brands have done little to nothing to actually make their product lines more sustainable.

Greenwashing isn’t just a misrepresentation that risks further damage to the environment. People are frequently charged higher premiums by fashion brands for products that have been labelled as environmentally friendly.

Price gouging consumers for fake sustainable fashion products adds insult to environmental injury, and at least one institution is putting a stop to these actions. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) intends to publicly shame Britain’s largest fashion brands that are guilty of greenwashing. They intend to release the names of fashion brands as well as companies in other sectors in a detailed report that is soon to be released.

How Common is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a much bigger problem in the fashion industry than most people realise. Companies based all around the world have either wilfully or ignorantly misrepresented the sustainability of their product lines for many years, but a series of revelations uncovered by sustainability advocates have brought more of these incidents to light.

Nearly 60 percent of European fashion brands greenwash their products

Changing Markets Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that was formed to accelerate the transition away from unsustainable products to more environmentally sustainable consumption. In July 2021, the organisation released a report on brands that are guilty of greenwashing their product information. According to the findings, 59 percent of the largest European fashion brands could be guilty of greenwashing.

Flawed sustainability index exposes depth of greenwashing challenge

A number of the world’s largest brands have, knowingly or unknowingly, become connected to a greenwashing scandal. According to the Guardian, companies like H&M, Nike, Primark, Tommy Hilfiger, and more have announced they will stop using the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) to quantify the environmental impact of their fashion products.

The MSI is a suite of tools developed by a non-profit alliance called the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). Flaws in the MSI ranking index were identified by the Norwegian Consumer Authority, which warned H&M that using the MSI misrepresented the truth about the environmental sustainability of their fashion products.

Phillipa Grogan, a sustainability consultant for the firm Eco-Age, welcomed the news that flaws in the MSI have been identified, and that brands will no longer greenwash their product packaging based on results from the index.

“If you think of a life cycle assessment as a clock face, the Higgs MSI is only looking at midday to 3pm - only a selective part of the impact. To represent how sustainable a product is, we need the assessment to go from midnight to midnight - so not just from cradle to the shop, but from cradle to the grave.”

How to reduce the chances of being duped by greenwashing

No environmentally conscious consumer should feel bad if they’ve unwittingly purchased a greenwashed fashion item. After all, if packaging information is misleading the true environmental effect of the item in question, how is an unaware consumer supposed to know the difference between truly sustainable fashion items and greenwashed labels.

Here at home, in Canada, the movement towards greater sustainability has been a slow but ever progressing shift towards greater environmental awareness and consciousness. It’s not just in the fashion space either; Canadian entrepreneurs have become very eco-friendly and innovative, including owners of some of the country’s greenest hotels and eco-friendly businesses that have emerged across a variety of sectors.

When it comes to sustainable fashion, Canadians should trust labels of homegrown eco-friendly companies like Wolfe Co. Apparel & Goods as reliable providers of green clothing. All Wolfe Co. apparel is made within Canada and upheld to the highest standards of quality and environmental sustainability. There are no greenwashing concerns with our labels.

We believe in keeping the entire fashion development lifecycle here at home. We support local talent to produce new designs and product lines for our business while eliminating overseas fast fashion manufacturing that fails to adhere to eco-friendly standards. A sizable portion of our revenue is then reinvested back into the communities where we manufacture our apparel to help produce a community-first brand that supports green initiatives and greater health.

You can learn more about our story here.