More and more brands are labelling their collections as green and sustainable, but it is not uncommon for this to be nothing more than hot air - Here's how you can recognise greenwashing
Author: Ilka Bröskamp
More and more brands and companies are labelling their collections as "sustainable", "fair", " environmentally conscious" or " eco-friendly". Far too often, however, there is not much more behind these terms than a simple marketing strategy: greenwashing. But what is greenwashing, how can you identify it and what are the typical pitfalls.
What is greenwashing anyway?
Put simply, greenwashing is a marketing strategy by which companies proclaim themselves or their goods to be sustainable, even though this does not apply to their business practices. Adorning oneself with bold buzzwords that suggest sustainability without brands adhering to ethical and environmental standards is a typical form of greenwashing. The aim is to improve the image and increase sales figures.
Identifying sustainable products as such is therefore often not that easy for consumers. Four tips on how to recognise greenwashing and actually buy environmentally conscious products can be found here.
Recognising greenwashing - this is how it works
1. Pay attention to transparency and check the facts
Very general, vague formulations are often the first indicators of greenwashing. Companies that really attach importance to sustainability set themselves goals that can be proven or measured with the help of figures. Transparency is an important keyword in this context. Sustainable brands that are seriously committed to the environment and fair working conditions usually prove this on their websites.
Regularly published sustainability reports provide consumers with detailed insights into the company's activities. Which materials are used in production? Are there CO2 compensations? And are workers paid enough so that they can make a living from the money?
Many brands now publish sustainability or CSR reports. However, there are no defined standards as to what information must be included in the reports. Here, too, the statements often remain vague and not very meaningful. Industry-standard third-party certifications can help to objectively verify the statements made in the reports.
2. Companies only meet the minimum standards
If one wants to recognise greenwashing, it is also worth taking a look at generally applicable guidelines and legal requirements. Some brands claim to be particularly sustainable, for example because they use energy-efficient LED lamps or avoid certain environmentally harmful chemicals. However, these measures are not indications of particularly sustainable action, but standards whose compliance is required by law.
Thus, for the assessment of how sustainable a company is, these facts are completely irrelevant, as they should apply to all companies. If these standards represent the only efforts towards more sustainability, this is a clear sign of greenwashing.
3. Recognise greenwashing at fast fashions "conscious collections"
Sustainable collections as part of the overall assortment give the impression that the first steps towards sustainability have been taken. However, these supposedly ecological collections often comprise only a fraction of the total production and are nothing more than a clever marketing strategy used mainly in the fast fashion sector.
After all, environmentally conscious products are popular with consumers and the "green image" of a collection is quickly transferred to the entire company. A positive impact on the environment, however, is by no means evident.
4. Does the company take a holistic approach?
The use of environmentally friendly materials and packaging are important components of sustainable action. Efforts should nevertheless go well beyond this if a company is serious about minimising its environmental footprint and assuming social responsibility. Avoiding plastic and waste is indisputably a good, important step to counteract existing environmental problems.
However, if a company's sustainability strategy focuses exclusively on external factors, such as the use of environmentally friendly materials or the needs of consumers, greenwashing can be clearly identified.
A T-shirt made from 100% organic cotton is of course easier to market than a shirt made of polyester. But if the cotton shirt was produced under conditions that do not guarantee fair wages and the safety of the workers, there can hardly be any talk of real sustainability here either.
Recognise greenwashing, remain critical and take a close look
As consumers become increasingly aware of sustainability, more and more brands are presenting their activities, products and values as environmentally friendly, even if in reality this is anything but true.
Greenwashing is not uncommon, exists in many different forms and is not always recognisable at first glance. It is worthwhile to remain critical and to look carefully before buying, so as not to be deceived by empty marketing promises and striking formulations.