20 - 26 September, 2021
We are becoming more aware of the impact that the fashion industry is having on both people and planet, and brands are feeling the push more than ever to demonstrate that their practices are ethical and sustainable.
This is great. But only when it’s genuine!
Navigating the world of ethical and sustainable fashion, and making informed decisions that align with our values can be hard enough already without throwing greenwashing into the mix. Brands these days are introducing 'eco' and 'conscious' ranges willy nilly in an attempt to signal to consumers that their product is "doing good”, positioning themselves more favourably. But brands aren't backing up their claims.
Greenwashing is a hot topic within the fashion industry, and this week's wrap will delve into a new (and eye-opening) report on the subject, while also suggesting some simple reads and tracking sites on how to spot greenwashing tactics. I have also included one of my favourite podcasts, recommending an episode on the topic of transparency.
Take a read
What is greenwashing? Everything you need to know about fashion’s faux sustainability is a great introductory read on the topic of greenwashing. The author begins by defining greenwashing while offering some examples, before going on to identify how fashion can stop greenwashing, and what we as consumers should be looking out for.
Below are some of the key takeaways:
Greenwashing is described by Emily Rose Turner, head of brand at Eco-Age, as merely “...marketing spin which uses unsubstantiated vague claims allowing consumers to think that a brand, product or service is environmentally friendly.”
When it comes to spotting those greenwashing tactics, and ensuring that we are making informed purchasing decisions that will make our wardrobes more ethical and sustainable, we need to consider;
If the brand is being transparent about their supply chain right from production through to manufacturing.
Looking for more information regarding brands sustainability practices and certifications. If we aren't able to find what we are after, ask!
Brands can (and do) make false claims, so we need to look for evidence to back them up.
A brand claiming to do well by the environment should also be paying their workers a fair wage. Ethics and sustainability must co-exist.
Getting educated, learning about materials, and reading those labels. Popping ‘vegan’ or ‘organic’ in front of a material doesn’t necessarily equate to sustainable, and 20% recycled isn't always good enough.
Token gestures aren't always indicative of the brands whole business model.
The new report The Great Green Washing Machine Part 1: Back to the roots of sustainability, authored by Veronica Bates Kassatly, Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, and Eco-Age, is the first in a series of publications examining sustainable fashion, and whether the industry's efforts are making meaningful change, or simply distraction.
As we know, the fashion industry is having a detrimental impact on the environmental, while also enabling exploitative sweatshop conditions for it's garment workers. To counter the possibility of gaining a bad reputation from such practices, brands are adopting programs to make them appear like they are addressing the issues. However, these efforts are based on a) a flawed definition of sustainability, b) unscientific methods, and c) selective implementation.
“During this same 20-year period of increased reporting and sustainable investing, carbon emissions have continued to rise, and environmental damage has accelerated. Social inequity, too, is increasing.”
The report begins by defining sustainability by going right back to the roots. The Brundtland Report (also known as "Our Common Future"), published in1987 by the United Nations (UN), underpins the UN Sustainable Development Goal's (SDG's). Therefore, any person, corporation, or country claiming to adhere to the SDG's, is claiming to adhere to the Bruntland definiton of sustainability. As the report highlights, there is a lot of deviation from the Brundtland definiton, with many sustainability claims only taking into account the environmental impact, lacking any attempt to measure sustainability in terms of meeting the needs of the world’s poor.
N.B.: It is worth taking a look at Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics (also mentioned in the report), as this clearly demonstrates what is missing from the current definition of sustainability employed by the fashion industry. Raworth's concept focuses on the challenge of meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet. The doughnut features a 'shortfall' inner ring labelled social foundation (e.g. food, health, education, housing) and an 'overshoot' outer ring identified as the ecological ceiling (e.g. air pollution, biodiversity loss, ozone layer depletion). Between these two boundaries lies the safe and just space for humanity.
The report goes on critically analyse the way in which current sustainability claims within fashion are deviating from the Brundtland definition, focusing on three areas;
Brand driven sustainability initiatives, which often involve claims and recommendations that don't take into consideration the possible socio-economic impacts on the world's poorest.
Going beyond green, and integrating wage and farm earnings in the world's poorest and most vulnerable areas.
Integrating farmers, and implementing a more scientific approach at a farm level
The report concludes with suggesting two measures, and associted action points, towards meaningful criteria for sustainable fashion. Most notable, these measures priortise the needs of the world's poor.
Recommendation 1 - Investment in farmers.
Recommendation 2 - Inclusion of living wages in regulatory frameworks.
This is a rather lengthy report (approx. 20 pages), but I do recommend setting some time aside to take a read. It is really eye opening, and left me questioning a lot!
If you are trying to reduce your clothing consumption, and learning to love and care for what you already own, then the article Want a more sustainable wardrobe? Take better care of what you have featured in The Guardian is a great (high level) read. I love that the article opposes Marie Kondo-ing your wardrobe (this only contributes to landfill), instead suggesting some super simple things we can all introduce now.
Take a look
Have you heard of Fashion Checker?
This campaign by the Clean Clothes Campaign, funded by the European Union is a great starting point when it comes spotting greenwashing, and seeing if a brand is actually paying fair living wages.
"Brands in the fashion industry put millions into advertising themselves as ethical and sustainable, making plenty of claims about paying their workers a living wage. Fashion Checker shows how far from the truth this actually is, giving consumers and garment workers access to real data from the supply chains of the worlds’ biggest brands."
The site offers the ability to search which apparel and footwear brands pay their workers a living wage. They also include some great infographics on what difference it makes to be earning a living wage instead of a minimum wage, and the breakdown of the cost of a €29 t-shirt (e.g. from profit to brand, transport, and pay to worker).
Take a watch
Greenwashing and fast fashion - Aja Barber and Asad Rehman (P1) | Studio B: Unscripted is a great two-way conversation (not simply an interview) between writer, sustainability consultant, and slow fashion stylist Aja Barber, and climate and economic justice activist Asad Rehman.
This short, 25 minute conversation and Q&A, breaks down the flawed economic model which places profit over people, and the unethical and unsustainable world that is fast fashion.
Take a listen
I am sure this won't be my last Common Threads podcast recommendation. You may have gathered, I am a huge fan!
This week I suggest taking a listen to Episode 32 What does Transparency have to do with Fashion? Transparency is fundamental to creating a fairer fashion system, allowing for the identification of when things go wrong and who is responsible, while also allowing us as consumers the confidence and knowledge about where our money is going.
Supply chains are complex and fragmented, and oftentimes the information we are provided with doesn't incorporate the whole chain. We need to remove those blind spots.
What we can’t see, we can’t fix!
In exploring the topic of transparency, Alice and Ruth delve into the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index results for 2021, what the future of fashion transparency might look like, while also touching on the topic of woke-washing, and the impact of the pandemic.
Please GET IN TOUCH or leave me a comment. I would love to know what you have been reading, listening or watching this week.