Greenwash Dilemma in the Fashion Industry: Societal Implications and Solutions

by | Dec 19, 2023 | Climate change and sustainable development | 0 comments

Article by Eri Fujikawa

Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash


In today’s fashion landscape, we frequently enter declarations like “We are committed to reducing the environmental impact of our business”, “We use environmentally-friendly packaging”, and “We monitor and evaluate the environmental and social performance of the suppliers.” These proclamations adorn the websites, paper bags, and clothing tags of many fashion brands. They project an image of eco-friendliness and social responsibility, appealing to environmentally-conscious consumers. However, the reality often falls short of these lofty claims, giving rise to a pressing issue known as “greenwashing.” This deceptive practice can mislead consumers into believing that these brands are more environmentally responsible than they truly are. This can be a critical issue in the pursuit of a more sustainable society for future generations. Do you believe that these brands are genuinely considered eco-friendly, using only sustainable materials and recycling every clothing and bag, or should consumers remain sceptical of their claims?

Greenwashing is particularly pervasive in the fashion industry, especially within fast fashion giant brands like H&M Group, Primark, and New Look. The signs of greenwashing are abundant in these stores, often making us question their commitment to sustainability. Clearance section brim with garments at unbelievably low prices, frequently made from poor-quality materials that may deteriorate after only a few washes. Additionally, there are numerous examples where there is a glaring disconnect between a brand’s sustainable marketing claims and its actual practices. For instance, Primark, an Irish multinational fast fashion retailer known for its affordability and wide product range, introduced a 22-piece sustainable collection named ‘EarthColors ®︎ by Archroma’ for the first time in 2022, aiming to convey to consumers that they are environmentally conscious and committed to green initiatives. However, these sustainable items constitute only a small fraction of their offerings, while the majority of their business operations continue to have a detrimental impact on the environment. Notably, research by the Changing Markets Foundation found that, while 39% of items among all fashion brands featured sustainability-related terms like “recycled” or “low-impact”, 59 % of them failed to meet the sustainability guidelines established by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Why does the “greenwashing” issue persist in the fashion industry, and why does it matter?

There are two key factors contributing to this problem: unethical business practices and the capitalistic society we live in.

Firstly, greenwashing practice is inherently unethical as it deceives consumers into believing that they are supporting environmentally friendly endeavours while these brands make minimal changes to their production processes. It is a cost-effective means for fashion brands to enhance their eco-friendly image and attract environmentally-conscious consumers.

Secondly, in a capitalistic society where profit is the dominant motivator for businesses, sustainability can be a strategic necessity for fashion brands to survive and thrive in a fiercely competitive environment. The growing number of environmentally-aware consumers has made the environmental benefits of products advantageous to these brands. However, their pursuit of profit often leads brands to prioritize short-term financial gains over long-term sustainability. Paradoxically, they may adopt unsustainable practices while projecting an image of offering sustainable products. It’s a stark contradiction that epitomizes the challenges faced by a profit-driven industry in an era of heightened environmental consciousness.

So, how can consumers navigate this maze of greenwashing and make environmentally responsible choices in a society where greenwashing has prevailed? Here are two key strategies for consumers to avoid purchasing greenwashed products and become more eco-conscious.

First, consumers should approach vague terms like “eco-friendly” or “biodegradable” with scepticism. Instead of solely relying on catchy marketing phrases, it is crucial to look for products that have trustworthy certifications from reputable organizations. Certifications such as the B Corp Certification or the FSC Certification. Signify a brand’s commitment to sustainable practices and provide consumers with more assurance regarding a product’s environmental impact.

Second, consumers should consider a product’s entire lifecycle. While some products may appear eco-friendly in terms of their production processes, they may pose challenges in terms of recycling, biodegradability, or potential harm to the ecosystems. By taking a comprehensive view of a product’s life cycle, consumers can evaluate its true environmental impact.

In conclusion, greenwashing in the fashion industry is not just a consumer issue but a reflection of complex sociological dynamics. It reveals the ethical dilemmas posed by a capitalist system where profit often conflicts with environmental responsibility. While consumers can adopt strategies, greenwashing persists due to the sociological system and the need for regulatory change. Addressing the greenwashing issue requires not only informed consumer choices but also systemic shifts and regulatory measures along with our changing environmental priorities and values.



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