Greenwashing; What it is and 6 Ways to Spot it

Greenwashing Featured Image

Sustainability has become the next big “thing”. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – if anything’s going to become a trend I’d rather it be saving the planet.

However, the fact it’s being seen as a “trend” isn’t all that positive. Companies are hopping on the bandwagon and marketing products as “ethically conscious” or “sustainable” when they’re not. This is called “greenwashing“.

This phenomena means that consumers purchase from a brand under the assumption that they’re supporting sustainability when that isn’t actually the case. The lines are blurred between what is and isn’t considered ethical or sustainable when it comes to consumerism, so brands are able to get away with it.

Some great examples of greenwashing include H&M’s ‘Conscious Collection’ or Boohoo’s ‘For the Future’ collection.

Greenwashing Portrait - Eyes

H&M – Sustainability-in-Progress or Greenwasher?

The fashion industry as a whole is the biggest greenwashing offender to date. H&M is a company constantly being called out.

In April 2019 they launched their “Conscious Collection”, even going as far to use “sustainable style” as their tagline. And it’s pissed a lot of people off. I first heard about it through Venetia Falconer’s Instagram video which outlines the deceptive marketing strategy adopted in their campaign.

The truth is, H&M are a fast fashion brand. This means they’re not following sustainable practices. This is hugely misleading to consumers who aren’t likely to question otherwise. In 2011 Greenpeace International released an article reporting that H&M were polluting water sources with toxic chemicals. In 2015 H&M were reportedly producing 600 million items per year, does that sound sustainable to you?

Don’t get me wrong, H&M are trying. Just not very hard. There are fast fashion brands making much less effort than they are to be sustainable. But at least those companies aren’t hiding it. What annoys me (and many others) the most is the fact they’re trying to brand themselves as a sustainable fashion brand when they’re not.

Greenwashing Smile

6 Ways to Spot Greenwashing

1 // Buzzwords. Some brands will throw out random buzzwords like “sustainable”, “eco-friendly” and “organic”. If they’re greenwashing they most likely won’t indulge in too much information about it. Can they back up their own claims? Look out for official certifications e.g. Fairtrade.

2 // Transparency. Are they transparent about their processes? How specific are they in the information that they provide? This is a key way to spot greenwashing – especially if they’re just packing their descriptions with buzzwords.

3 // Their pricing. If a brand, specifically fashion brands, are marketing products at extremely low prices this can be a telling factor. Often a “great deal” is the result of cheap labour or unsustainable practices.

“Given the significant business opportunities and risks in the transition to a sustainable economy, this is no time for greenwash, complacency, or ‘basic compliance’ approaches. Business is expected to lead.” – (CISL, 2018)

Greenwashing Portrait 2

4 // Get in contact. By no means am I saying you should email brands saying “hey, are you greenwashing?”. Contacting a brand directly is the best way to understand their processes. Honesty is the best policy and if they’re sincere, they’ll provide information about it. If not, then why? What have they got to hide?

5 // Company history. Does the company in mind have a history of spreading false or misleading information? Look at H&M for example, multiple sources have accused them of greenwashing. It’s highly unlikely that media outlets have banded together to launch a 10-year long unjustified hate campaign against H&M. Especially when they’re able to support their claims.

6 // Stay alert. I know this is easier said than done. I’ve fallen victim to greenwashing myself in the past, but then realised what was going on. Brands can’t keep up with the greenwashing façade forever.

For more information about greenwashing and how to spot it, watch My Green Closet’s informative YouTube video.

Have you heard of greenwashing before? What do you think about it?

8 comments so far.

8 responses to “Greenwashing; What it is and 6 Ways to Spot it”

  1. Izzy McLeod says:

    Very useful guid. I searched for some ethical brands on google the other day and on shopping H&M was one of the first ones that came up! I was not happy to see that… especially now they’ve been essentially called out for lying about their sustainability and ethics

    The Quirky Queer

    • Ugh that’s so annoying! I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that there’s a law suit being filed against them for misleadingly labelling themselves as a sustainable brand but haven’t been able to find anything on it since. I’m glad you found this post useful, thanks so much for reading Izzy!
      El xx

  2. Kaci says:

    It bothers me that sustainability is being viewed as a trend as well. You’d think everyone as a whole (companies included) would want this to be second nature.
    Great post though! I’ll make sure I’m more careful with companies I shop with.
    Thank you for helping to spread the word.

    • Definitely! Companies just want to cash-in on the sustainability hype but don’t actually want to put effective changes in place. Obviously it’s not always possible to avoid unsustainable businesses, but it doesn’t hurt to be more aware! Thanks for reading Kaci.
      El xx

  3. Chloe says:

    Oh wow I have always wondered about this and didn’t realise this was what this was called! great post I learnt a lot

    • I know what you mean! I always wondered what the actual term was when I thought about the concept of ‘fake sustainability’. I’m so glad you found it helpful!
      El xx

  4. Ciara says:

    I hate that companies try to hoodwink people into buying something by pretending they are working towards a good cause. It’s the same with companies that sell in the Chinese market claiming to be ‘cruelty free’. You can’t be cruelty free if you consciously choose to trade in a market that requires by law that all products be tested on animals!

    • Definitely agree with you there! It’s all about making a quick buck unfortunately. One day they’ll hopefully be held accountable or called out on their actions. Thanks for reading Ciara!
      El xx

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I'm Elen Mai, the brains behind Welsh Wanderer and 20-something human biology student from (you guessed it) Wales! Welsh Wanderer is designed with the eco-conscious adventurer in mind. So stick around for tips & tricks on living sustainably.

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