Profit over planet? We’re recapping 8 times fast fashion brands made dubious sustainability claims in 2022. Read on for examples of greenwashing in fashion.
Today, the fashion industry views going green as a no-brainer, with consumers more interested than ever in leading eco-friendly lifestyles. According to The Global Sustainability Study 2022, 66% of consumers considered sustainability to be an important factor when making purchases. In recent years, brands of all sizes have been attempting to make their business models more sustainable.
This has also given rise to greenwashing: when businesses (accidentally or otherwise) portray themselves as more sustainable than they actually are. While instances of greenwashing have been on the up, there were some definite wins for the industry in 2022. From legal investigations like the CMA (Content Market’s Authority) taking multiple consumer brands to task, to UN legislation declared in progress, the tables are turning.
To wrap up 2022, here’s sharing a number of greenwashing examples from mainstream fashion brands (and what makes them suspect in the first place!) to make it easier for you to spot.
1. H&M taken to court for making misleading claims
This year, the Swedish fast-fashion chain came under fire in a greenwashing lawsuit brought about by marketing student Chelsea Commodore. Commodore contended that H&M’s Conscious Choice collection contained misleading sustainability information, which was then further backed by a Quartz investigation.
While their garments within this conscious collection were made from recycled materials, H&M continues to use fossil-fuel-based synthetic fibres that still shed harmful microfibres when washed. To take it a step further, the fashion brand utilises green labels to promote its Conscious Choice collection as more eco-friendly than other products, when it’s been proven that they’re not.
2. Decathlon’s ‘eco-design’ error
In another greenwashing crackdown, French sporting goods retailer Decathlon was called out for touting vague sustainability claims within their marketing. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) sought reparations for the brand’s unclear use of terms like ‘eco-design’. Following this, Decathlon has committed to altering or discontinuing making any claims about sustainability on its products. In an attempt to make reparations, the company also donated a sum of £400,000 to causes related to sustainability in the fashion industry.
As a recent update, they’re reportedly cooperating with authorities and working to improve how it “communicates about eco-design,” a term that refers—among other things—to material choices and production process optimisation.
3. Zara’s carbon emission clothing
In June this year, Zara released a limited-edition collection of designs made from carbon emissions, in partnership with LanzaTech. To create the fabric, carbon emissions were captured and recycled from industrial processes, thereby reducing emissions into the atmosphere.
While it is commendable for LanzaTech to make a breakthrough in turning carbon emissions into fabrics, the limited edition collection doesn’t absolve Zara of the destructive environmental impact of all of its regular collections, from which it derives the most of its revenue and profits. It continues to produce tonnes of non-sustainable clothing daily, with many pieces ending up in a landfill not long after.
Overall, the irony of fast fashion brands releasing sustainable lines is that they do so while continuing to propagate and perpetuate the overconsumption and overproduction of cheap, poorer quality clothes.
4. Boohoo’s ‘Celebwashing’ Kourtney Kardashian collaboration
Having a celebrity endorse a sustainable collection sounded like a good idea to Boohoo, who launched a 24 piece capsule collection with Kourtney Kardashian in September 2022.
What the ultra fast fashion brand probably wasn’t expecting was the avalanche of industry uproar. The news prompted many in the industry to point out the controversies surrounding its supply chain, from its heavy use of petrochemical-based fabrics to human rights infringements. With the KK collection representing only a small portion of the numerous styles available on the brand’s website, it’s hard to see this collaboration as meaningful or indicative of real change.
5. Adidas’ recycling confusion
Known for its signature three stripes, Adidas was found guilty of making misleading and exaggerated sustainability claims by France’s Advertising Ethics Jury.
Upon launching next-generation Stan Smith sneakers, the brand promoted them as “50 percent recycled” with an “end plastic waste” logo.
These ambiguous claims made it difficult for customers to determine whether half of the materials used in the product were recycled or if they can be recycled.
6. Pretty Little Thing’s resale reckoning
Pretty Little Thing (PLT), a UK-based fast-fashion retailer under the Boohoo Group, faced accusations of greenwashing after the announcement of its resale platform PLT Marketplace. The move was slammed in the media for not having clear legs (this is the same platform that reduces items in its sale to less than a pound!)
Good on You rates the brand as ‘not good enough,’ it’s difficult to believe that it is taking sufficient steps to safeguard the environment, workers or wildlife. This is all on the back of an investigation into their parent company, Boohoo Group, for allegations of slavery in 2020.
7. Amazon’s Aware collection
Within days of being caught misrepresenting its carbon footprint, multinational technology corporate Amazon launched an eco-friendly essentials line. Coined Amazon Aware, the products featured in the private label brand are reportedly carbon neutral and form part of the brand’s ‘Climate Pledge Friendly programme’.
This contradictory marketing ploy aimed to shift the focus of how Amazon attempts to detract attention from the environmental impact of its business. Unlike its peers, the online retailer does not account for carbon emissions of products outside of its private label.
Concerning the Amazon Aware label, the timing of the launch felt peculiar. Amazon claims to be driven to advance sustainability, working towards a net-zero goal in 2040. However, it kept its climate objectives mostly under wraps and did not disclose its carbon footprint until 2021.
8. Primark’s Earthcolours error
Known for its low-priced and diverse range of products, UK-based fast fashion retailer Primark recently unveiled its first 22-piece sustainable collection ‘EarthColors® by Archroma’.
The problem with this collection is the fact that it represents only a marginal portion of their products being “sustainable”. It’s contentious for a mass-producing apparel brand like Primark to launch collections like this when the core of their business model is harmful to the environment.
Sure, the loungewear featured in the EarthColors range are made with natural dyes from food and plant waste. Nevertheless, the manufacturing of the majority of Primark’s collections use toxic, chemical-based dyes.
Inquisitive in nature, Syafiqah is unafraid to experiment with her wardrobe through the latest finds in her thrifting adventures.