Greenwashing and Colorwashing: What are they and how to spot them | Ecobuy
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“Look! that super big fast-fashion company is using a BCI certified cotton for their last collection; they are so sustainable!” “Sorry to disappoint you, but they are not!”

The collective research for a more sustainable world and the increasing awareness of the impact that our purchasing habits have on our planet, moved away environmentally aware consumers from buying certain brands and companies (not very well known for their ethical practices) and started pushing “not so aware” consumers to question the actual impact of their shopping.

That’s not convenient for the profit of those companies’ which, in response, started presenting themselves, as more earth-friendly, launching collections made from recycling or eco-friendly materials, creating responsible online services – such as adding filters to the website to help customers discover positive products – exasperating how organic the products are and how green the pack is.

Everything seems very nice, except that often those brands prefer to just superficially present themselves as environmentally friendly rather than implement an equivalent amount of sincere green practices internally. When this happens, we are in front of a real marketing practice called GREENWASHING.

In the last months, we have witnessed several cases of greenwashing, especially inside the fast fashion industry. The material used to produce fast fashion clothing are often unsustainable: the most prevalent polyester, is basically plastic derived from petroleum, it is not biodegradable (of course), and it needs a particular type of dye to be coloured which has a lot of chemicals and when processed, its toxicity enters the environment causing severe problems to plant and animal life. Same thing happens with conventional cotton, as despite being a natural fibre, it presents issues such as water depletion and contamination, pesticide management, soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions; enough problems that lead consumers of the brands, that always based their production on those textiles, not to purchase them anymore.

So, What do they do? They create a new collection entirely made of recycled polyester, or they partner with the Better Cotton Initiative “to support more sustainable cotton and create a brighter future”. Pity that the fast fashion model remains unsustainable! It doesn’t really make much sense if you swap to organic cotton but keep producing thousands of pieces at warp speed and sell them at low prices to make room for a new collection asap, if you always push out new products, and if your unwanted clothing keep ending up in landfills!

Greenwashing it is not only misleading, but it is not helping to support the circular economy as it misdirects well-intentioned consumers down the wrong path.

So again, what’s greenwashing? It is when brands use superficial eco friendly, initiatives to create a profitable media image, but in reality, they do little about the real environmental impact of their production.

And what about the social effects?  The so-called COLOR WASHING, macro category of greenwashing, not only “washes” earth unfriendly practices but also unequal practices towards workers, exploitation, racism and unsafe work conditions. Certain brands promote female empowerment or antiracist values through advertisements, product messaging or further brand communication while hiding low salaries and conditions, others try to appear as being supportive of LGTBQIA+ movement while not empowering LGTBQIA+ individuals inside of their own business, for example. In these cases, we are talking about Pink, Brown and Rainbow washing.

The lack of transparency of certain brands can make it very hard to differentiate brands’ true purposes from superficial intentions. That’s why we created A small guide to make your greenwashing spotting process a bit easier.

  1. Do your research! Check their websites. If they are transparent enough, they will show the impact that their supply chain, production facilities, transport and shipping methods have on our earth. Otherwise, you can also explore expert websites such as Good On You or Sustainable Fashion Matterz. There you can find brand ratings and sustainability’s score as well as articles on ethical and sustainable fashion.
  2. Read the LABEL! Rather than trusting the words organic and natural, read the entire ingredients list. Inci Decoder and Think Dirty can help you with that when it comes to cosmetics! They decode your skincare ingredients, analysing every single one and assigning a result based on their toxicity.
  3. When it comes to clothing, remember that natural materials are not always a synonym of sustainable. Same thing happens with synthetic leather. They are not sustainable just because they are vegan. Check the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, which compares the environmental impact of different textiles.
  4. Look after industry-standard certifications! When a product respects a sustainable or ethical feature, you will be able to find a mark on its pack or label that certifies its truthfulness. For example, on certified cruelty free products, you should be able to see a bunny printed on its package. If you tap “sustainable certification” online you can find so many different ones: the ones for organic and bio food, the ones for organic textiles, the ones that ensure right work conditions and so on.
  5. Last but not least: Buy Less and better! Never stop asking yourself “do I need this?” Only buy the things you really need.

About the Author:

A creative freelance writer from Italy, with a nerdy passion for sustainability, especially when it comes to fashion and beauty! I will always be a huge advocate of second-hand clothing, upcycling and DIY!

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