AI created image cartoonish, of many people like a simpson postee

What is greenwashing in fashion and how to spot it

Greenwashing in fashion: Unraveling the truth behind the trends

One primary example of greenwashing in fashion is the rise of fast fashion brands touting their environmental initiatives. Many of these corporations may introduce a single sustainable collection while continuing their harmful production methods on a larger scale.

Consumers see the eco-friendly capsule, and the brand maintains the appearance of going green – but the majority of their practices remain detrimental to the environment.

six sins of greenwashing 

Now, how can you spot greenwashing in fashion? As an informed consumer, it's essential to dig deeper into a brand's stakeholders' claims and environmental commitments. Look for transparency in the supply chain, a brand's policies on waste reduction, and certifications from reputable organizations that evaluate sustainability.

Don't be fooled by vague buzzwords or one-off environmental initiatives. By staying informed, we can hold the fashion industry accountable and demand genuine change for our planet.

Understanding greenwashing

To fully grasp the concept of greenwashing in fashion, it's essential to first define what greenwashing is. Greenwashing refers to the practice of misleading consumers by presenting an eco-friendly image, while not truly following sustainable practices.

In the fashion industry, greenwashing can be seen as brands claiming to have environmentally friendly products or practices when in reality, their efforts are minimal or nonexistent.

There are numerous examples of greenwashing in fashion that show how pervasive this issue has become. Fast fashion, in particular, is a major contributor to this problem. Oftentimes, these brands release "eco-friendly" collections, but their overall business model contradicts their green claims. In many cases, such collections only make up a small percentage of their merchandise, and the bulk of their products still relies on non-sustainable materials and manufacturing processes.

Here are some common ways brands engage in greenwashing in the fashion industry:

  • Using vague or misleading terminology: Companies may use words like "green," "eco," or "sustainable" without explaining what they mean, thus creating a false impression of environmental responsibility.
  • Exaggerating the impact of sustainable initiatives: A brand might publicize a single eco-friendly collection while neglecting to mention that the rest of their products aren't made sustainably.
  • Hiding information about the full supply chain: Transparency is crucial in the quest for sustainability. Many brands avoid disclosing details about their suppliers and manufacturers, making it hard for consumers to verify their sustainability claims.

Spotting greenwashing in fashion has become an essential skill for environmentally conscious consumers. Here are some tips to help identify these deceptive practices:

  • Look for specific details: Brands truly dedicated to sustainability will provide concrete information, including materials used, manufacturing processes, and third-party certifications.
  • Research the brand's entire product range: Verify if the brand's sustainable claims apply to all their products or just a selected few.
  • Check for supply chain transparency: Investigate the brand's production methods and supply chain partners to confirm if their practices align with their green claims.

Greenwashing in the fashion industry is an issue I cannot stress enough. It's vital for consumers to remain vigilant and make informed decisions when shopping for sustainable apparel. By recognizing and avoiding greenwashing, we can collectively support genuine eco-friendly brands and promote positive change in the fashion world.

The Fashion industry's role

As we can understand so far, these deceptive practices are designed to improve a brand's image and convince consumers that they are making environmentally responsible choices.

As I delve deeper into this topic, it's important to note that greenwashing can take many forms. Some examples of greenwashing in fashion include:

  • Exaggerating the environmental benefits of a product
  • Concealing the negative impact of the manufacturing process
  • Using vague, unverified, or unregulated "eco-friendly" marketing terms

Fast fashion is particularly notorious for its involvement in greenwashing. As a sector that promotes disposable, low-quality, and affordable clothing, fast fashion generates enormous amounts of waste and pollution. However, some brands still attempt to project an eco-friendly image, often resulting in greenwashing events.

This chart shows the carbon emissions released by leading European apparel retailers in 2022, in metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents:

Bar chart of Carbon emissions by EU fashion brands

Source: Statista

To better understand the prevalence of greenwashing in the fashion industry, it's useful to consider some real-life examples. Here are a few instances where brands have been called out for their greenwashing practices:

H&M's "Conscious Collection" controversy

 H&M conscious collection cover image

The collection boasted sustainable materials, but failed to address its overall negative environmental impact. In recent years, H&M, a global leader in the fashion industry, faced a class-action lawsuit over its "Conscious Collection". This collection was touted as a sustainable alternative, boasting materials with reduced environmental footprints.

However, the lawsuit alleged that H&M failed to address its broader environmental impact, suggesting a disjunction between the brand's green marketing and its actual environmental practices. Despite these serious allegations, the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed by the judge.

What is greenwashing in fashion, you ask? It's a term I've been increasingly concerned about, as both a consumer and an expert in the fashion sphere. In essence, greenwashing in the fashion industry refers to brands using misleading marketing campaigns to appear more environmentally friendly or sustainable than they actually are. As the public becomes more aware of their ecological impact, companies jump on the "green" trend – often without truly implementing sustainable practices.

The dismissal raised questions about the legal and ethical boundaries of sustainability claims in the fashion industry, and the responsibility of brands to ensure that their environmental impact aligns with their publicized sustainability initiatives. Read more about the lawsuit and some of the claims made.

H&M and sustainability in 2022

H&M recently released its 2022 Sustainability Report, highlighting steps it has taken towards more responsible operations, such as increasing use of recycled materials and reducing water usage. However, many critics argue these efforts amount to mere greenwashing that distract from the massive environmental impacts of fast fashion.

H&M's core business model still relies on selling large volumes of inexpensive clothing, much of which ends up in landfills. While the report touts achievements like 57% sustainably sourced materials, the impact is small compared to fast fashion's exponential growth. This here are some of the highlights: 

  • HM Group set a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 56% by 2030 (from a 2019 baseline). This aligns with limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
  • 100% of HM Group's electricity comes from renewable sources as of 2022.
  • The company aims to use 100% recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030. In 2022, 57% of materials used were sustainably sourced.
  • Water usage was reduced by 10% from 2021 to 2022 through initiatives like optimizing and recycling water in manufacturing processes.
  • HM Group audited over 5,900 factories in 2022 to check for issues like human rights violations and environmental impacts. Over 150 factories were rejected or phased out due to lack of compliance.
  • Living wages were paid to 78% of HM Group's strategic suppliers in 2022, with a goal to reach 100% by 2025.
  • 263,000 workers were trained on topics like health, safety, and empowerment in HM Group supplier factories in 2022.
  • HM Group aims to be climate positive across its entire value chain by 2040. This means reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than it emits.
  • Check out the full H&M sustainability disclosure 2022.

    Share of sustainably sourced materials used by H&M from 2012 to 2022

    Zara's "Join Life" campaign and “pre-owned” initiative

    Zara join life

    Zara pledged to use sustainable materials but allegedly lacked transparency in its supply chain and production processes. Zara's Join Life collection and its new pre-owned platform, both geared towards sustainability, have sparked debate.

    The Join Life collection uses sustainable materials but critics question the inherent contradiction of a fast fashion model. Labor practices also raise concerns. While the pre-owned initiative extends the clothing life cycle, skepticism lingers about the brand's genuine commitment to sustainability. Thus, Zara's moves towards greener fashion are seen as steps forward, yet their effectiveness in impacting environmental change remains uncertain. published a piece critical of the Join Life collection last year.

    There are more cases of this nature, but this is expected given that big companies also want a piece of the pie. The pie in this case is the profit to be made from people who want to buy sustainable fashion and support the slow fashion movement. A lot of resources are allocated on understanding consumer behaviours and sentiments, but unfortunately in most cases the insights are used to deceive.

    So, how can you, as a consumer, spot greenwashing in fashion? Keep an eye out for these red flags:

    • Vague or ambiguous terminology that's not followed by concrete actions
    • Exaggerated claims without third-party verification or certifications
    • A focus on one "green" product, while overlooking the brand's overall environmental impact

    In summary, greenwashing in the fashion industry can be a deceptive and confusing practice. To avoid falling into the trap of greenwashing, I suggest being extra vigilant when researching eco-friendly brands or products and investigating their sustainable practices. By doing so, you'll ensure that you're making informed, environmentally-conscious choices.

    Here are some key points related to sustainability from the Inditex 2022 Annual Report:

    • Inditex has set a target to use 100% sustainable cotton, linen, and polyester by 2025. In 2022, 84% of the cotton, 66% of the linen, and 50% of the polyester used was sustainable.
    • The company aims to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 compared to a 2017 baseline. In 2022, emissions were down 11% from 2017 levels.
    • In 2022, renewable electricity represented 86% of Inditex's total energy consumption. The goal is to reach 100% renewable electricity in 2022.
    • Water consumption per garment fell 10% from 2021 to 2022. Inditex aims to reduce water consumption per garment by 25% by 2025 compared to a 2019 baseline.
    • By the end of 2022, 93% of paper and cardboard used by Inditex came from certified sustainable sources.
    • Inditex audited facilities supplying 63% of its production in 2022 to verify social, health and safety, and environmental standards.
    • The company aims to ensure a living wage is paid to all workers in its supply chain by 2025 and that 100% of its suppliers pay at least a minimum vital wage by 2022.
    • In 2022, the Inditex Foundation invested over €42 million in social initiatives related to sustainability, circularity, refugees, and economic development.

    Identifying greenwashing tactics

    As I dive into the world of greenwashing in fashion, it's essential to understand what it is and how to spot it. Simply put, greenwashing in the fashion industry refers to the practice of making misleading or exaggerated claims about a product's environmental benefits. Companies may engage in greenwashing to capitalize on the growing consumer demand for eco-friendly products.

    Fast fashion is a prime example of greenwashing in action. While brands may advertise their products as sustainable, their business models often thrive on overproduction, waste, and poor labor practices. Consequently, the green claims made by fast-fashion companies might not align with their actual environmental impact.

    To spot greenwashing in the fashion industry, I recommend keeping an eye out for the following tactics:

    1. Vague Claims: Brands may use terms like "eco-friendly" or "sustainable" without providing detailed information on what that means or how their practices live up to those claims.
    2. Misleading Imagery: Be cautious of companies that use nature-related images or visuals, as they might be doing so to create the illusion of environmental commitment without offering substantial proof.
    3. Limited Focus: Brands that only emphasize one aspect of their sustainability efforts may be hiding other, less eco-friendly practices. For example, a brand might tout their use of organic cotton but fail to address their energy consumption or labor practices.

    Here are a few examples of greenwashing in fashion:

    • Brand A claims to be sustainable but doesn't provide specifics, such as data on their carbon emissions, water usage, waste management, or supply chain transparency.
    • Brand B uses recycled materials for their packaging but disregards reducing their overall environmental impact on other aspects of production.
    • Brand C launches a small "eco-friendly" collection while maintaining their regular, unsustainable practices in a majority of their product line.

    To avoid falling prey to greenwashing tactics, consider these steps:

    • Research the brand: Look for detailed information and transparency in their sustainability claims.
    • Check for reputable certifications: Certifications like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Fair Trade Certified can be helpful in identifying genuinely sustainable practices.
    • Focus on quality and longevity: Choose clothes made with high-quality materials and built to last, reducing waste and the need for frequent replacements.
    • Shop locally: A few weeks ago I was walking I Lisbon and I came across 2 stores that sell locally made fashion. Either form Lisbon or somewhere else in Portugal.
    • Feel the material: Another advantage of shopping locally is the ability to feel and try the garments on our body. This should give you a good idea on the quality of the product.

    As you learn more about identifying greenwashing in the fashion industry, it will become easier to make informed choices and support genuinely sustainable brands. Familiarize yourself with the differences between fast fashion and slow fashion, it will help when you're making shopping decisions.

    The Path Forward

    As we move forward, the importance of sustainable fashion remains clear. While greenwashing presents obstacles, its prevalence highlights the growing consumer demand for authentic eco-conscious apparel.

    By staying vigilant, we can cut through misleading claims and support brands that make measurable impact through ethical production, sustainable materials innovation, supply chain transparency, and circularity efforts.

    With consciousness and care, we can collectively steer the industry toward a future that protects both people and planet. The road ahead requires focus, but the destination makes the journey worthwhile.

    Here are some key points to remember on how to spot greenwashing in fashion:

    • Look for specifics: Seek clear and detailed information about sustainable practices and materials used.
    • Verify third-party certifications: Check whether the brand has any credible third-party certifications (e.g., Fair Trade, Global Organic Textile Standard).
    • Investigate supply chain transparency: Ensure the brand provides clear information about its supply chain, including who makes the products and under what conditions.
    • Refer to independent resources: Websites like Good On You and the Higg Index can offer unbiased insights into a brand's sustainability claims.

    To sum up, it's important for both consumers and the fashion industry to be aware of and challenge greenwashing practices. By building our knowledge and making mindful decisions, we can push for a more transparent and truly sustainable fashion industry. As you continue exploring what lies beneath the surface of the fashion world, always remember: together, we have the power to bring about lasting change.

    Back to blog
    • Sustainable fabrics featured image

      Sustainable fabrics in fashion

      Exploring sustainable fabrics in fashion unveils a revolution where eco-friendly materials meet modern design. This movement, driven by organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and recycled polyester, is not just a trend...

      Sustainable fabrics in fashion

      Exploring sustainable fabrics in fashion unveils a revolution where eco-friendly materials meet modern design. This movement, driven by organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and recycled polyester, is not just a trend...

    • fast fashion vs slow fashion featured image

      Fast fashion vs. slow fashion

      Fast fashion delivers trends rapidly and affordably, but it's environmentally harmful, generating pollution and waste. Slow fashion, the antithesis, champions quality, sustainability, and ethical production, focusing on timeless, durable pieces...

      Fast fashion vs. slow fashion

      Fast fashion delivers trends rapidly and affordably, but it's environmentally harmful, generating pollution and waste. Slow fashion, the antithesis, champions quality, sustainability, and ethical production, focusing on timeless, durable pieces...

    • Organic cotton certifications

      Organic cotton certifications

      Explore the world of organic cotton certifications in this comprehensive guide. Learn how certifications like GOTS and OCS influence sustainable practices, impact the environment, and guide ethical consumer choices in...

      Organic cotton certifications

      Explore the world of organic cotton certifications in this comprehensive guide. Learn how certifications like GOTS and OCS influence sustainable practices, impact the environment, and guide ethical consumer choices in...

    1 of 3