My name is Victoria Cook and I’m a fast-fashionoholic. Well, I used to be. For a while my favourite activity was tapping on Instagram fashion adverts, you know, just to have a look. Did I need a new sustainable sports bra? Actually, yes I did. What about this vintage jumpsuit that the company promise to plant a tree for? I’m in. Is that an exact replica of the skirt Dolly Parton wore in the film ‘9-5’ made from recycled polyester? Take. My. Money.
Instagram had picked up on all my weak spots (sustainable/jumpsuit/Dolly Parton) and every time I logged in it waggled them at me like one of the Dream Boyz shaking his tuchy in my face at a hen party. It was hard to ignore. But buying some new clothes was okay because it was all sustainable, right? Wrong. Oh so very wrong. Just scratching the surface on the ‘green’ exterior of some of these companies revealed a rather unpleasant undercarriage. Just like some of the Dream Boyz.
The term Greenwashing was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld back in 1986 and is used to describe companies who mislead their customers about the green credentials of a product or the environmental performance of the company as a whole. Essentially, it’s misdirection, showing you something that distracts you from what’s really going on. Sneaky.
I’ve heard that if you hold a pair of H&M’s ‘sustainable’ trousers to your ear you can hear the echo of the marketing executives smugly whispering buzzwords, ‘eco-friendly’ ‘natural’ ‘ethical’ while refusing to pay garment workers a living wage and causing irreversible harm to the planet with the sheer volume of product they produce.
Unfortunately, the biggest loophole in sustainability is that there is no clear, quantifiable definition so companies can’t be held accountable by law which is how beauty brand Innisfree managed to release a new ‘green’ bottle with the words ‘Hello, I’m a paper bottle’ wrapped around a 58.1% reduced plastic bottle and didn’t get ten years porridge.
Though of course the fashion and beauty industry aren’t the only culprits, serial offenders Nestle who have been huge contributors to the worlds plastic pollution crisis continue to gaslight customers with greenwashing. Nestle released a statement offering to make 100% of it’s packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, however less than 1% of their packaging is currently reusable and they’ve been named one of the top three global plastic polluters for three years in a row.
"Nestlé's statement on plastic packaging includes more of the same greenwashing baby steps to tackle a crisis it helped to create," Greenpeace oceans campaigner Graham Forbes said. "It will not actually move the needle toward the reduction of single-use plastics in a meaningful way, and sets an incredibly low standard as the largest food and beverage company in the world.’
This whole debacle is messier than my hair after a year in lockdown. Greenwashing is set to get worse as brands have an incentive to exploit customers who have become more environmentally conscious and demand more from the products they use. A 2015 Nielsen poll showed 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable products. So how can we spot a greenwasher from a company who are making steps in the right direction?
How to do a Scooby Doo Reveal on Greenwashers
Is the brand releasing a small range of its product line sustainably but promoting itself as conscious?
Are they overstating their ethical or environmental efforts? (IE Clothes made from recycled plastic but not paying garment workers a fair wage)
What is their packaging like?
Go on their website and check the information. Are their claims substantial and backed up with facts and figures or is it littered with beautiful nature scenes and the write up is vague and unspecific?
Choose brands you know and trust over random products
If in doubt, google them out.
Sources: The Guardian: The Troubling evolution of corporate greenwashing
Extinction Rebellion, Green Queen, @lesswastelaura, GreenpeaceUK
Thanks to @lesswastelaura for inspiring this blog.