What Is Greenwashing and Why Is It Bad
According to one study, approximately 55% of consumers are willing to pay more for a piece of clothes, if the company is committed to a positive social and environmental impact.
This means that more than half of the consumers in the world (in theory) will pay a little extra for a product if it says it is sustainable, ethical, or in general environmentally friendly. Just look at yourself – you are here because you want to make sure that the things you buy are eco-friendly.
Greenwashing is basically brands, that promise you that their products are eco-friendly and socially responsible without actually following that promise
But is it a problem that people want to pay more for a product if it is socially responsible and eco-friendly? Doesn’t it mean that we are on the right track to creating a greener fashion industry where fast fashion is equated with a fossil?
Not exactly. This is where the term greenwashing kicks in.
The big fast fashion brands know you are willing to pay more for a piece of clothes, if the tag in the neck says it is made from recycled materials or “made with care”. So of course they want to jump on the sustainable fashion train as well.
But that is great right? Fast fashion chains changing their practice and become sustainable? Well, in theory, yes. But the fact is, a lot of the clothing brands promising you eco-friendly clothes don’t keep the promises they make.
They tell you all the great things about their “sustainable” products, but in reality they are only telling you a fraction of the truth, because they only want you to focus on the good things they do.
This my friend, is called greenwashing.
Let’s take a closer look at how greenwashing works in reality.
What is greenwashing exactly?
Greenwashing is basically brands, that promise you their products are eco-friendly and socially responsible without actually following that promise. You can say that greenwashing is false markering, which is misleading the consumer to believe a product is more sustainable than it actually is.
If you’ve never heard about greenwashing before here is a definition that might be helpful:
“Greenwashing is the process of creating a false impression or provide misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound”
Greenwashing is a big problem in the fashion industry since it deceives consumers into believing a company’s products are more eco-friendly than they actually are.
Maybe you already get the idea of why greenwashing is a problem. Almost all fashion companies nowadays have either a sustainable line in their collections, uses some sort of environmentally friendly materials, or have at least one product in their line made from recycled materials. Which is great!
But the problem arises when these brands claim to be truly sustainable brands even though they are only doing the minimum to be able to make these claims.
A lot of brands, and especially fast fashion brands, are only making these claims for profit. They aren’t actually doing a difference. They just know you are willing to pay more for the shirt, if the label says sustainable.
Think about it – isn’t it crazy that you are able to buy a “sustainable” product for only 20 dollars? For a product to be considered truly sustainable it is not enough it was made from eco-friendly fabric. This fabric should be resourced in a sustainable way, the workers who made the clothes should be paid a fair wage.
There is a reason why truly sustainable products cost more. The supply chain will inevitably become more expensive if these “boxes” have to be checked. So how are companies able to make a truly sustainable and environmentally friendly product for 15 or 20 dollars?
Spoiler alert – they are not.
Remember how greenwashing is all about fooling the consumer into believing a product is more environmentally friendly than it actually is? Companies are realizing they can make more money on a product if they claim it is sustainable – even though they didn’t change much in the production of it.
This means they companies are making more money on products they didn’t spend that much more on creating.
So why do people fall for greenwashing? Let’s take a closer look at that below
How does greenwashing affect the consumer?
We are probably all guilty of it. purchasing an item from a brand we though were more sustainable than it actually was. We had the best intentions. But ended up in the greenwashing trap.
Greenwashing makes the consumer believe they are doing something good for the environment when the opposite actually is the case. Greenwashing is then limiting the consumer’s ability to make an environmentally-friendly choice.
It can also make the consumer more skeptical towards all kinds of green products because the consumer will start to believe that all firms are greenwashing including those products that are actually environmentally friendly and sustainable.
So greenwashing is actually a big problem. But let’s find out how big a problem greenwashing actually is.
What are the seven sins of Greenwashing?
Okay so now we know the answer to teh question; what is greenwashing, we know it is bad, but we also know that it can be quite difficult for a consumer to see through greenwashing.
Greenwashing gives the consumers the impression that the product is greener than it actually is. But there are a few factors that might help you to see through the veil of deceiving.
The Seven Sins of Greenwashing can help you to discover which brands are guilty of greenwashing.
It might help you to answer the question “what is greenwashing”, and will definitely help you to get a better understanding of the term.
1. Hidden trade-off
The hidden trade-off is when a company labels a product environmentally friendly based on a few things while not addressing other important factors. An example of this could be a company addressing the use of recycled materials in a product, but not addressing how or where this product was made, how much emission it cost to make, or how these recycled materials have been sourced. So be aware if a company isn’t being transparent of the sustainability of a product as a whole.
2. No proof
If a company is making an environmental claim without baking it up with any proof, that is a red flag too. Make sure to check if the company has an easily accessible proof of their claim before you believe it.
If a company uses a lot of buzzwords that are vaguely defined this is a problem as well. By using poorly defined terms, it is difficult for consumers to identify what the company actually mean when they use these terms, which can make the consumer believe the company is doing more than they actually are.
If a company puts something on its website, that is kind of irrelevant when it comes to the eco-friendliness of the product you should be alerted as well. Like if a company says a certain product is free from a harsh chemical that actually isn’t allowed in your country – if it is a matter course and they still put it on their website, they want you to believe they are better than they actually are.
5. Lesser of two evils
If a product claims to be more environmentally friendly than other products in the industry but the industry in itself has a reputation for being environmentally unfriendly. Then it isn’t a big accomplishment being a fraction better than a company that is highly polluting and not at all eco-friendly.
When a company advertises something that simply isn’t true. Like claiming to be CO2 neutral but not actually being CO2 neutral.
7. Worshipping false labels
Claiming that a product has a certification that in fact doesn’t even exist. This often takes place through false label certification.
Why is greenwashing bad?
So why is greenwashing bad? From the section “what is greenwashing” we know that greenwashing is a term used for companies who make consumers believe they are purchasing a product that is more social responsible and environmentally friendly than it actually is. So basically false marketing.
The problem about this is that the consumer thinks she/he is doing something good for the environment when in reality the result is the opposite. Greenwashing is then leading people with the best intensions into making unsustainable actions.
You might then end up overlooking companies that are actually making a difference for the environment and actually having a sustainable supply chain.
So not only will greenwashing companies deceive you into thinking you did something good for the environment when the opposite probably was the case. You will probably have paid more money as well.
So basically greenwashing makes you pay more money for a product that actually is harmful to the environment without consumers even realizing it. That is what I would call a big problem.
How do you stop greenwashing?
So how can you avoid greenwashing? Well, an easy step would be to buy fewer things and only buy vintage or thrift clothes. But if you want to know whether a company is greenwashing there are a few things you could look at.
First fo all, you can use the Seven Sins of Greenwashing described above to help you see through a brand’s marketing strategy. But the best thing you can do, is to investigate a brand to the bottom
Another thing is to trust your gut. If it feels too good to be true – it probably is.
What information are they providing on their website? Are they just using big fancy words are actually providing information to back it up? You can also research the brand on the internet to see if they have a bad reputation.
Another thing is to trust your gut. If it feels too good to be true – it probably is.
If the company is using misleading words, or the whole picture doesn’t add up, they company is probably greenwashing as well. Also remember to take a closer look at any graphs you might find on their website. Numbers are easy to manipulate, so remember to take a closer look at these.
Want to learn more about sustainable fashion?
If this article made you hungry for more information about sustainable fashion, we are here to satisfy your hunger.
Did you for example know that there also is a term called bluewashing? This is also a negative term but refers to another important problem within the fashion industry. You can learn more about what bluewashing is here
Or maybe you want to learn more about what sustainable fashion actually means? If that is the case, then I have the perfect article for you, which describes what sustainable fashion actually is.
You can also find a list of 10 sustainable fashion tips that are easy to follow right here. This article will make it much easier for you to create a truly sustainable wardrobe and live like an eco-friendly fashionista.
Hope you enjoyed this explanation, and feel free to write a comment below, if you ahve any questions.