Consumers around the world are increasingly aware of the environmental and social impact of products after a series of environmental scandals and labour exploitation cases were revealed in the fast fashion industry. By putting their demands into collective action, fashion brands are increasingly pressured to make better social and environmental choices to align with consumer demand.
Unfortunately, some retailers have chosen to respond with environmental buzzwords to cater to consumers' green demand, known as "greenwashing". To be a smart consumer, here are five ways we can see if a brand is greenwashing products rather than making an improvement to engage in sustainable practices:
1. Go to the company’s website
To make sure you are supporting an ethical business, go to the company’s website and see if they state their sustainable practices and provide actual data and numbers. Check if the company states any measures or programs for improving their social responsibility and if they trace and audit their supply chain to ensure employees are being paid with a living standard wage. It’s always good to know if they use any kind of eco-friendly materials in their product or have policies to lessen the environmental impact of their production. You can also look for their packaging and shipping options and see whether the brand uses minimal packaging and does anything to offset their shipping emissions.
2. Look for third party certification
Another effective way to evaluate the brand’s practices is to look for third-party certification. Brands are more likely to present the bright side of their products by using various market tactics, therefore it is more credible if a brand is certified by a third party civic group, legal provision or union. Some examples include Bluesign, ReMake, Global Organic Textile Standard and the World Fair Trade Organization. Having these certifications means the claims made by brands are backed by impartial auditing and their supply chains have been investigated to ensure they meet certain ethical and sustainable standards, which further reduces the potential for greenwashing.
3. Read the reviews of products
Instead of just being the recipient of the campaigns and marketing strategies imposed by brands, consumers could take a more proactive approach by reading the reviews of the products from other fellow consumers. However, with the growing trend of brands collaborating with social media influencers, consumers should try to avoid sponsored content and instead seek organic discussions and reviews on online forums, discussion websites and third-party e-commerce platforms. The brand will usually have a reviews section on each product page which are generated by verified buyers.
Additionally, consumers should find reviews about the quality of the clothes and whether they have been made to last. As many fast fashion clothes are not designed to last for a long time both material-wise and trend-wise, customers are having to revisit the shop and make new purchases more frequently which then encourages poor consumption habits. Therefore, less is literally more when it comes to sustainable fashion.
As Vivienne Westwood once pleaded: “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody's buying far too many clothes.”
4. Search news coverage related to the company
Search previous coverage related to the company online to check if they had environmental or labour exploitation scandals and what their response was. Did the brand commit to changing their standards and investing in better wages and a better working environment? Did they opt for more environmentally friendly materials and invest in new technologies that can revolutionize the way their clothes are produced?
5. Check the brand listing on sustainable fashion dictionaries
It can be a little overwhelming when doing all the research by yourself, alternatively, you can check first if the brand has been evaluated by others. There are several sustainable fashion platforms and dictionaries that have already done the research on the ethical practices of popular brands including both giant retailers and smaller businesses.
ReMake has listed out the ethical and sustainable brands alphabetically on their website and gives a short introduction to each label. They also launched a #PayUp campaign demanding retailers to pay for the orders they have already placed or paused because of the impact of COVID-19. Another platform, Good on you, evaluates the brands with three categories: planet, people and animals. This means that they dig into companies’ environmental impact, investigate fair working conditions for garment workers and also look into whether the products are cruelty-free or use animal products.
If you still have questions about the brand or concerns that cannot be found on any platforms after following all the steps mentioned above, there is always the option to reach out to the brand directly. Let the brands know about their customer’s concerns by contacting them about the questions, this will not only help you in making a more conscious purchase but help the company to be more aware of their ethical business practice when taking your opinion into account.