Greenwashing is a term that was coined in the 1980’s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, who saw the inconsistency in hotels that did not employ concrete recycling programs but encouraged the reuse of towels by patrons. (PRSA).
It refers to the promotion of green-based environmental initiatives or images without the implementation of business practices that actually minimize environmental impact (or any of the other negative effects of their businesses). It is also defined as the “dissemination is misinformation by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” (Oxford English Dictionary). This practice often includes misleading customers about the actual benefits of a product or practice through misleading advertising and/or unsubstantiated claims, in order to “create a benefit by appearing to be a green company, whether that benefit comes in the form of a higher stock price, more customers or favored partnerships with green organizations.” (Investopedia).
Methods: There are many routes a company can take in terms of greenwashing.
Brands can “make vague claims or omit important and relevant facts. They may do this inadvertently, just using information from their suppliers; in the recent case where several clothing companies claimed that they sold eco-friendly bamboo-clothing when they in fact sold rayon produced from bamboo – but processed in a way that uses harsh chemicals and can also release hazardous air pollutants.” (NFA).
Companies may utilize “press releases about green projects or task forces put into place, energy reduction or pollution reduction efforts, and rebranding of consumer products and advertising materials.” (Investopedia). For example, “Ford Motors — like other automakers often castigated by environmental groups for making gas guzzlers and opposing many proposed state laws aimed at fuel efficiency — has been running advertisements promoting its planned lines of hybrid and flexible-fuel cars.” (NYTimes).
Greenwashing also happens when “corporations parrot their environment programs with the end goal of earning profit.” (ABS).
Greenwashing in the Fashion Industry
Many fashion industry labels employ “green” and “ethical” marketing to target “conscious” consumers: H&M’s Conscious collection, made of organic cotton and recycled polyester; Puma’s biodegradable InCycle Collection; Adidas’ Design for Environment gear; Uniqlo’s All-Product Recycling Initiative; Zara’s eco-efficient stores; and the Gap’s P.A.C.E. program, to benefit the lives of female garment workers. (AlJazeera)
Examples of alleged Greenwashing include the following:
“Take, for instance, H&M’s use of cotton. It’s the material H&M uses most and the company boasts that the non-profit Textile Exchange has recognized H&M as the world’s number-one user of organic cotton, which has a lighter environmental impact, and reduces the use of “probably” carcinogenic pesticides. But only 13.7% of the cotton H&M uses is organic.” (Quartz)
In 2014, Forever 21 was subject to claims of greenwashing. “Not only has the fast-fashion powerhouse announced plans to the largest single-rooftop solar-power system in Los Angeles County, it also unveiled a new 18,000-square-foot concept store that promises greater quantities and even deeper discounts on its already cut-price clothing.” (ECouterre)
H&M launched a film campaign with actress Olivia Wilde to debut its new “Conscious Exclusive” collection for 2015 … yet in 2015, H&M will produce over 600 million new garments. That’s an increase of 50 million articles of clothing from 2011. It will expand its physical locations by 10 to 15 percent every year, requiring the use of energy-intensive resources. (Huffington Post).
*This story first appeared on The Fashion Law
By Cameron Wolf
Fashion’s an industry that thrives on newness, and one unfortunate side effect of that is waste. Americans alone discard 21 billion pounds of clothing and footwear every year. Fortunately there’s I:CO (it stands for I Collect), a company committed to fighting this problem. I:CO has partnered with brands like H&M, American Eagle, Levi’s, North Face, and Puma to wean each off its natural resources addiction, working to replace those materials with recycled options over the next five years.
“The I:CO infrastructure provides the basis for the sustainable, economic solution of the future – the “circular economy,” I:CO managing director Nicole Kösegi tells Racked. “In an ideal world, materials will be able to flow ‘endlessly’ which means that materials tied in products can be used over and over again for new products after the end of the products’ life-cycles.”
The company was founded in 2009 to solve the textile waste problem. Instead of dumping clothes into a landfill, I:CO provides an alternative where consumers can donate unwanted items to local retailers. Clothing is then delivered to an I:CO facility and a team of sorters. Ideally, clothes will be in good enough shape that they can be worn again — garments that meet these standards are resold to be bought, worn, and loved by someone else. The rest are organized by about 400 criteria and sent to different stations based on quality. Absorbent fabrics are put through a shredder to become windshield wipers. Others are pulled through massive rollers, and hard materials like buttons are sorted out before fabrics are pressed to fill stuffed animals or insulate a house.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of I:CO’s upcycled fabrics is H&M, which launched its very own collection of clothing made out items collected at its stores. The “Close the Loop” collection is one of H&M’s efforts to try and negate its effects on the environment. Comprised of a denim pantsuit, jeans, and overalls, the clothes are made of 20% reusable materials, with a goal of getting to 100% in the near future. Recycled fabrics aren’t durable enough to make up an entire garment yet, so companies must blend recycled materials with natural cotton — a method that yields a product indiscernible from one made completely out of virgin materials.
I:CO guarantees that there’s no drop in quality when reusable materials are used. “There is no difference regarding the look and feel of products you can buy in stores, between such using recycled cotton and virgin cotton, but they differ regarding the ecological footprint. It is way more ecological to wear recycled cotton,” says Kösegi.
The North Face’s punnily named Clothes the Loop program encourages customers to donate clothing of any condition to be recycled. The brand initiated Clothes the Loop at 10 stores in 2013 before launching it in all stores in 2015. Levi’s also encourages — or bribes — customers to donate clothes by gifting a $10 off voucher per donation. Meanwhile, Puma’s InCycle collection is engineered specifically to be biodegradable and fully recyclable. Once a customer is done with an item, they can drop it in an in-store bin. American Eagle also collects clothing and offers a 20% discount to those who donate.
Sustainability is a “trend” that might be here to stay out of necessity. “If the costs for primary materials continue to rise, recycled material will be an important alternative economically,” testifies Kösegi.
Tod Foulk, the founder of Portland Fashion Week, which is dedicated to showcasing sustainable fashion, is pragmatic about the sustainable movement. “Really, I think the big boys jumped in because they had to,” he tells Racked. “People now are realizing that the world has finite resources and the longer we can keep those going, the better. It’s not a fad. It’s a trend with a mission and within the next decade you’ll see a lot more where sustainability’s concerned. We’re only seeing the beginning of it.”
I:CO is making it extremely easy for brands to be a part of the green movement. All that’s required is that stores collect and then send clothes to one of the German company’s sorting facilities. H&M has already amassed 20,000 tons of clothing for I:CO and together the two “can change the way fashion is made,” the brand’s sustainability expert, Cecilia Brännsten, says. A Levi’s spokesperson shares a similar sentiment with Racked, saying, “We chose to work with I:CO in part because they help move us closer to establishing the infrastructure to support closed loop products by 2020.” Five years isn’t far off; according to I:CO, 95% of garments can be recycled, which means that the only thing standing in the way is simple behavior change.
*This story first appeared on Racked.com