Sustainability is trending. While this fact is definitely a means for celebration, I also cringe from time to time.
Why, you ask? Greenwashing. The influx of sustainability chatter has fueled the prevalence of greenwashing in our day to day lives. It can easily trick well-intentioned consumers, and that gets me a little heated.
Let’s first start with definitions of sustainability and greenwashing. Then we’ll dive into what action you can take to be a more savvy consumer.
When I talk about sustainability I am referring to the ability for actions to be maintained at their current rate of operation and adhere to a balance between the principles of people, planet, and profit. Any system that maxes out or abuses these three principles is not sustainable.
In terms of talking about sustainable products or clothing, we must look at an item’s entire life cycle from the production practices of ingredients/materials used to the reality of what happens to an item at the end of its life.
My simplest explanation of greenwashing is when a brand talks the talk in terms of being an environmentally sustainable business but they don’t walk the walk - meaning a brand or business may pull the metaphorical fleece over the eyes of consumers with strategic marketing to sell products without taking real steps towards change. These brands often spend more time and money claiming to be a sustainable business through advertising rather than implementing changes in business and production practices to minimize environmental impact and ensure ethical production.
So how do we identify greenwashing on a day to day basis? Check out the seven red flags below to help you identify greenwashing and be a more eco-conscious consumer.
- Vague terminology. You’ve seen the buzz words friends - green, natural, eco-friendly, the list goes on. These words do not legally require any substantiation to be used, but they do make for dynamic copy for marketing campaigns or social media posts. I encourage you to dig deeper to see how a brand is substantiating their use of the flashy buzz words. In other words, what action are they taking to back up their claims?
- Lack of third-party certifications. Is your favorite clothing brand touting a new organic line without using certified organic cotton? Be wary. Third-party certifications provide independent review of a company’s manufacturing processes and verify the company meets the requirements of a specific certification. These certifications hold brands accountable; subject them to surprise inspections; and show a brand has gone above and beyond to show they are “walking the walk”.
- Packaging contradictions. “Eco-friendly” products packaged in plastic and other petroleum based products or with excessive packaging that creates unnecessary waste should raise a red flag.
- Product contradictions. Brands who create a single or select number of sustainable or natural products while continuing to produce products that are petroleum-based and chemical-laden, are likely guilty of using sustainability to push marketing efforts.
- Contradictions in ethos. If a clothing brand claims to create sustainable fashion but those garments are made from slave labor, IT IS NOT SUSTAINABLE.
- Failure to recognize that our rate of consumption must change. If a brand is selling “sustainable” fashion at a fast fashion pace (shelling out new collections each week), they are not embracing one of the most basic principles of the movement. We cannot buy our way to a sustainable lifestyle. Do we need better options when it does come time to make a purchase? Heck yes, but we’re not going to consume our way out of our consumption problem.
- Lack of transparency. Information on a brand’s sustainability efforts should be easy to find on their website. If you are having difficulty finding information on ingredients, materials used, third-party certifications, production practices, and efforts to limit waste and pollution in the areas where manufacturing is taking place; I would question this brand’s credibility.
Don’t overthink it friends, but use these tips to help spot the imposters. If you need help finding eco-friendly alternatives for your wardrobe, household, or beauty products; we’re always here to help!