So far I’ve told you about greenwashing in different industries in a general way; and today is the day to tell you what fashion companies are doing about this very present, yet invisible, issue.
Before we start, I would like to clarify that the information I am sharing with you is pre COVID-19 information. At the end of the post I have compiled the different news about the textile industry once this radical change in life due to the confinement and the ceasing of work activity begun. Working conditions in countries like Bangladesh or China have worsened; nothing changes overnight, least of all a sector with such a large supply chain. As I said, at the end of the post I’ll share more updated information.
Many questions come to mind when I find myself wondering about sustainable living and the world in general:
- Can we believe the sustainability reports that some companies claim to have
- What is the percentage of sustainability that the company actually has?
- Can a company with a large production and generating more clothes than it sells be sustainable?
Greenwashign in the textile industry
It’s definitely not sustainable and can hardly be if it continues with that business model where up to 24 new collections are launched every year. The textile companies are fully aware of this (and many other atrocities) but they want to show us that they are starting to be sustainable … nothing could be further from the truth. Their marketing campaigns are so powerful that they trick us into believing that they are.
In the fashion sector there is a lack of transparency in general. It is an industry (as it is currently set up) that takes place in countries without laws protecting human rights and requires many suppliers, transport and countless people; making it sometimes very difficult to know where certain products come from or how they have been treated.
According to studies, “companies spend more money counting on having a greener clothing line than on paying all their workers.” More and more brands are launching greener collections; but these collections are a very small percentage compared to the rest of their production. A few garments a year is not enough to remedy the damage they are causing. The bad thing is that they leave a wrong message to the consumer who, on an unconscious level, believes that the brand he is buying is actually doing something for the environment.
What fashion brands do to look green.
1- Zara set this promise: ito use 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025. We all know that, even in the pre-COVID era, this was quite unlikely to happen. Remember that with such large and fast productions it is impossible for sustainability to exist. There are studies that say that in 2015 this company generated 16,030 tons of textile waste. To give you a more realistic idea of what 16,030 tons is, I’ll give you some comparisons:
African elephant: 9 tons.
Hippopotamus: 3.5 tons
Submarine U505: 700 tons
Eiffel Tower 10,000 tons
Tower of Pisa: 14,000 tons
2 – H&M has a space on its website dedicated to “product sustainability”; there it offers some transparency by giving the name of the companies and factories involved in the production of its garments. He also explains the differences between the materials used and invites his customers to recycle the clothes.
It seems that they have a certain will to change, although despite the sorrows it is still present, on a massive scale, in countries where labour is cheap.
Furthermore, the lines that are most sustainable are still produced in enormous quantities that are not all marketed because they have defects or are surplus; so what is left over ends up being burned with the consequent air pollution.
3 – Mango released a collection called “Committed” in which they promised to take care of the environment and use ecological fabrics. This brand often uses certificates that are not very reliable for sustainable fashion associations. It also aimed to make 50% of the cotton it uses sustainable by 2022.
Fashion Transparency Index
This chart is a Fashion Revolution initiative. It is a way of encouraging and pushing major brands to be more transparent in their policies, practices and supply chain. It shows who reveals the most information. We can also appreciate in a very visual way what is the percentage of transparency of other brands. In the chart you will see how Mango is/was one of the least transparent brands there is, at least at the beginning of 2020.
Let us remember that transparency does not equal sustainability. The fact that companies share their information does not mean that they are acting in a sustainable and ethical way, although it is a small first step. Without transparency we cannot see and protect the most vulnerable people and the planet; lack of transparency costs lives, that is clear.
I invite you to take a good look at the chart and share it, so that we can exercise our right to obtain more information.
This is an update on practices in the textile industry during the pandemic:
In March, as the world turned off, so did the fragile fashion supply chains. Sales plummeted with all that that entails in an industry with so many intermediaries and manufacturing in countries with few regulations.
H&M (which I mention a little earlier), stopped its clothing production early in the pandemic and committed to pay for all orders completed and in production.
This mark was starting to get a little closer to the approval on the Good and Bad list of the Workers’ Rights Consortium, but now it carries a negative point because of its practices during confinement. This Consortium has created a ‘COVID-19 tracker’ in order to have more control over the issue of payments to suppliers.
Levi Strauss, which joins brands such as Topshop , C&A, Gap and Sears by not committing to pay in full for all completed and in-production orders from Bangladesh; either by canceling orders directly, refusing to pay, demanding retroactive discounts or significantly extending payment terms. A Levi’s spokesman said that “some schedules may need to be adjusted due to the current crisis,” although the cowboy giant is “taking full responsibility for all orders completed, ready to ship and in progress.
It has also committed to using the raw materials that suppliers have already received for product orders in later seasons; where it expects to refocus as stores and wholesale partners reopen and consumer demand revives. Although the truth, there is no further information on whether this has been carried out or not.
Levi’s is a large and profitable company that successfully went public, reporting a net income of nearly $395 million in 2019! Come on, you have the financial capacity to be able to meet your obligations and on time.
The textile industry and the post-COVID-19 fashion brands
To date, brands and retailers have cancelled more than $3 billion in orders, the equivalent of 982 million garments according to the Bangladesh Association of Clothing Manufacturers and Exporters. There is an estimated $5 billion in irrecoverable losses to the sector in the country; jeopardizing the livelihoods of its 4 million workers.
It is clear that this tiny virus has shaken the foundations of the current system and way of life. We also know that it will take time for the planet to recover economically; we now need to be clear about our values to move towards a more sustainable and circular economy.
Do you care to enjoy the benefits of this circular economy?
How do you think the fashion industry is going to change?
Will you still buy from the same companies you did before the pandemic?
And how do I know exactly what is Greenwashing and what isn’t?
It was the first thing that came to mind after I learned about this ugly trend.
If you still don’t know what greenwashing is, I encourage you to go to the previous post to know more; this way you will be able to better understand what I am going to tell you today, which is quite important.
How do we recognize Greenwashing?
Although sometimes it’s a bit complicated to do so, there are some guidelines we can follow so that we are not fooled by these companies:
- Green is the most commonly used. Be wary of green packaging or images of nature. Take a good look at them, read the label and confirm if they have an eco-label or certificate. We are usually fooled by photos or designs where green stands out a lot; a color totally associated with nature and ecology.
- Sometimes brands have one or two products that they have made taking into account sustainability, but that does not mean that the brand is sustainable. That’s what they want you to think so that you keep buying other products from them. Greenpeace evaluates brands to see which ones are making a real effort for sustainability.
- On the other hand, there are companies that do seek to be sustainable and are on that path, although they are not yet 100% sustainable. Let’s remember that this is a journey that sometimes takes time.
- Get informed, read labels, research on the Internet. There are many forums and blogs where you can collect information.
- Find out about the right labels/certificates so you can recognize them; there are many, but at least learn the most important ones. I have to admit that I’m not an expert in this organic/ecological certificates thing; although I can research and write a post. If you would like me to do so, please leave a comment :).
- Whenever there are standard phrases, like: 100% natural, ecological, vegetable, handmade, traditional … be suspicious. Nothing that is manufactured on a large scale is 100% ecological or natural. Already with the packaging itself, some sustainable violation has surely been committed!
- Make your purchases calmly and thoughtfully, this way you can choose the products you need wisely.
- Go ahead and ask the company questions about something in particular. Let them know that we care about what we buy.
- Be careful, because sometimes packaging can be recycled (which is great) but it’s not recyclable; or the ingredients or other components of the product are not as sustainable.
- There are inconsistencies that hurt. Many earth-friendly, ecological or organic products come packaged with a lot of plastic.
- Trust the European Eco-Label and ECO-BIO products and certified stamps like the Rainforest Alliance.
- On the road to sustainability, you have to be open-minded and patient; there are companies that are making a change for the better and that takes time, effort and money.
- It’s important not to make a quick judgment, one way or the other; first look for information so you can make a verdict.
- Do not assume that everything sustainable is a lie. Keep in mind that there are many companies and brands that strive to be eco-friendly and sustainable.
- You surely have friends or colleagues who are specialists in environmental issues. Don’t criticize or judge them… They are working to make the world a better place and above all, they know about this kind of thing and you can turn to them for any environmental questions.
One last advice.
There is a good documentary called “The Green Lie” (2018) by director Werner Boote that talks and criticizes this phenomenon. It stars Werner Boote himself and Kathrin Hartmann, a greenwashing expert with several books published; It Doesn’t Get Greener; End of the Fairytale Hour; and From Controlled Overuse.
The documentary confronts the position of a consumer with a certain ecological awareness, but who does not question what the big companies tell him; as well as the harsh reality of the supposed green practices of the big industries.
Companies that have commited greenwashing
To finish, here are some examples of Greenwashing to help you see more clearly how some companies do or did to appear to be more “sustainable”:
- McDonald’s has been accused of greenwashing several times, they want us to believe that their raw materials are more sustainable. The truth is that their products need a lot of ingredients that they don’t disclose to us and we don’t know where they get them from. This is to make a summary of everything because it is clear that it is a total inconsistency.
- Exxon Mobil (a US oil company) carried out a communication campaign to publicise its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, although its total emissions were increasing rapidly.
- Coca-Cola launched an advertising campaign in Argentina for a new “green” product: “Coca Cola life”. It was sweetened with stevia instead of sugar. Despite this, the base of the drink remained the same: corn syrup, an additive made from grains from an agro-toxic market and responsible for many chronic diseases.
- Herbal-Essences has promised us a “truly organic experience”. But lauryl sulfate, propylene glycol and other compounds in its products are not so organic.
- O.B. tampons without an applicator claim to save up to one kilo of waste per woman per year. Now they just need to tell us how much herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, fertilizer and other chemicals they use to produce the cotton. Besides the damage they cause to women, it is much worse than we think (change to the menstrual cup!)
There are sustainable brands!
To end up with on a better note, it must be said that not all large companies use greenwashing.
WWF has published a document with the 10 companies that in its opinion have implemented real sustainable measures.You can have a look to know which companies we should be supporting!
Would you like to see which ones are there and support them?
See you next time!
There are times when an Instagram post falls short, even two. There are times when a blog post falls short, even with two … That’s why I decided to write a series of posts about Greenwashing.
To be able to have the information of what’s going on at the moment and give you solutions to avoid it is very important. I don’t know if you have the same problem; but when I start reading about a topic that interests me, I investigate it, chew it well so that I can integrate it and make it part of me. In sustainability the same thing happens; it is not a change you make overnight. There are small series of steps that you integrate into your life and that little by little make you see everything in a different way; you just have to want it and take action.
So here we go!
What exactly is greenwashing?
I want to remind you that greenwashing occurs when companies change their objectives, products and policies to make them more environmentally friendly. This is done for various reasons, but specially to increase sales. It’s based on making us believe that companies have become eco-friendly; and that the responsibility to be sustainable lies with consumers. It is a problem because very important information is hidden and manipulated. In fact their main objective is to sell more products.
It’s important to know that there are companies that use greenwashing without realizing it; because of ignorance and lack of information. In contrast, there are others who use it knowing what they are doing and what they are doing it for. Both can confuse the consumer or make exaggerated claims.
How companies do companies use it
Here are 12 strategies that companies use to make a product or company look green and sustainable:
When you change your name, logo, slogan or motto it is called rebranding. It is something totally legal and normal, the problem comes when they do it to appear environmentally friendly and be sustainable when in fact they are not.
We see more and more green in our products and this is because we have associated this colour with nature and ecology. Companies know this and play with it by changing the colour of the lake, for example, or by adding more “green” images to provoke purchase.
When a company expands the benefits of its product by focusing on a small point that makes it bigger, what it does is leave aside the other information (which is usually a lot) that is not at all beneficial to the environment. For example, some products talk about their packaging being green, but do not explain that the product’s manufacturing process has significant social and environmental impacts.
Bragging about it.
In this case, an attribute of the product is advertised as if it were a voluntary environmental improvement by the company when it really isn’t. The most common case is that of CFCs (a family of gases used in the refrigeration and aerosol industry that cause a lot of environmental damage). Many companies claim that they do not have CFCs when it has been mandatory since 1989 when the Montreal Protocol was signed in which they committed not to use them.
Words are used that the consumer associates with “sustainable” and the color green. In 2004 the European Commission adopted a Community regulation making it clear that the terms eco, ecological, biological or organic and their diminutives may only be used for products from organic farming. Although on a smaller scale, this is unfortunately still being done.
A clear example is that of wet wipes. Some are advertised as bio-wipes or organic because they are made from materials from organic farming but are confusing because people think they can be thrown in the toilet, and that is a big management problem in sewage treatment plants and an attack on the environment.
Many companies use figures to say that their product is more sustainable than those of the competition. But they do it with techniques that disguise reality, such as not using percentages; that is, they talk about quantities, for example: “We avoided the emission of 3,300 kg of CO2 last year” sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? In fact, in the company’s global operation, this represents 0.3% of the company’s total C02 emissions. Doesn’t it look different now?
Lack of evidence.
This happens when arguments are used that the consumer cannot verify from the information they are given. Normally, labelling provides very limited information on product traceability (origin of raw materials, for example), yet advertisers claim things that even the most demanding certifications could not verify.
What they do is divert attention from what the companies really want. They make advertisements with good images and stories that catch on to distract customers from reading the real information about the materials and manufacturing methods they have used. This information is usually at the botto, with small print and the greenest statements in bold.
Technical information and vocabulary is used that is difficult for most earthlings to understand, making it more difficult to verify. Making it sound green is enough to get us caught.
Non-existent organizations and favored associations.
This happens when a product says it is endorsed by some organism that doesn’t exist. In addition, some companies make donations to environmental or social projects to appear socially responsible and have a good reputation. Strategic movements to cover up the harmful actions they are carrying out behind closed doors.
A good example would be an oil company that is doing an ocean cleanup project to protect the environment after an oil spill, as ExxonMobil did. Some 10.8 million gallons of crude oil were spilled in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Since then, ExxonMobil has spent millions of dollars in an attempt to regain public confidence. These initiatives are usually taken after the government has sounded the alarm by committing an environmental crime.
Making unconfirmed claims.
Some green and sustainable claims made by companies cannot really be identified, there is little information available. In most cases, the information cannot be scientifically verified, but marketing specialists make it seem legitimate.
When there is a connection between products and urgent issues that are affecting the world right now, such as climate change or coronavirus.
Now you know a little more about how some companies play with us, consumers. Does it happen to you too, that after reading this you want to start acting against greenwashing?
In my next post I’ll give you ideas on how to avoid it.
I’ll be waiting for you! Thanks for being there.