Greenwashing explained

The rise of sustainable fashion, parallels the rise of so-called ‘greenwashing’. You might have heard companies claim they are ‘working to do their best to have a positive impact on the environment’, but when you look at their actions towards this, you only find vague descriptions. Well, that is what we call greenwashing. 

So what is Greenwashing?  

In 1983, Jay Westerveld first got the idea for the term greenwashing after seeing a note in a hotel bathroom in Fiji, that encouraged hotel stayers to reuse their towels to save the environment and ecosystem of Fiji. At this time however, the hotel was also expanding and building new bungalows. This gave him the idea for the term ‘greenwashing’.

Current definitions are: 

The Cambridge Dictionary  describes greenwashing as designed “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines Greenwashing “as activities by a company or an organization that are intended to make people think that it is concerned about the environment, even if its real business actually harms the environment.”  

A common form of greenwashing is to publicly claim a commitment to the environment while quietly lobbying to avoid regulation. This can be often seen when companies sign commitments or pacts to aid the environmental situation or working conditions of garment workers. They often start with well-intended goals or targets, which they want to reach by a certain time, but do not seem to follow up on and oftentimes are not even at a place yet to reach such goals. Having said that, some companies are committed to driving real change.

Why do brands greenwash?

As sustainability is becoming an increasingly trendy and important term for consumers, brands, of course, want to jump on the bandwagon. 

However, becoming sustainable, especially for a company is not a task you can accomplish overnight. To attract more conscious consumers that are looking for products that are good for the planet and people, companies have to meet these needs, as well as compete in this area of interest. This means rather than actually doing the work and working out ways to truly integrate sustainability into their company and supply chain, some companies prefer to use the marketing tactics to paint a greener picture on themselves. Why companies can do this so easily, is due to the biggest loophole in sustainability, which is that there is no clear quantifiable definition for terms like ‘ethical’ or ‘eco-friendly’, meaning they don't have a legal meaning, hence companies cannot be held accountable for actions by the law. This does raise many issues, not only does greenwashing not help to further reduce the fashion industry impacts, but it also does not help to support initiatives for sustainable designing processes or circular economy. More likely, environmental problems are getting worse and well-intended consumers might be put on the wrong path. 

How to respond as a consumer 

Now you may ask yourself - just like we as consumers do- how can we detect greenwashing activities by companies and how do we respond to it? 

Well, here are some ways you as a consumer can spot greenwashing activities:

  •  If a brand releases 'conscious collections’ but does not state clear facts to support its claim 

  • When a brand only produces a small number of eco-friendly products but promotes itself as conscious. This is greenwashing since the company is still largely profiting from unsustainable goods 

  • If a brand overstays its ethical or environmental efforts.

These are just a few examples of how to spot greenwashing. Now maybe in your mind pop up more examples where companies did these things. 

We as consumers can have an impact with our buying decisions, so we can decide how to respond to this. 

How does Kleiderly contribute? 

At Kleiderly, we want to reduce the global fashion industry carbon footprint, by reducing the amount of clothing waste and unwanted clothes that would annually end up in landfills or incinerators. By recycling them into a plastics alternative, we can solve two environmental problems and achieve a circular economy.



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