Don't Let Greenwashing Fool You

By: Lauren Zurcher

More and more people are becoming aware of fast fashion and its negative impact on the world. There are innumerable fast fashion brands, some of which claim to be more environmentally friendly than we may think. Regardless of how they try to portray themselves, it is no secret they all contribute in some way to large amounts of waste and pollution, exploitative labor practices, and public health hazards. This article dives into the notion of “greenwashing” and how not to be fooled as a conscientious consumer.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a term used to describe when companies falsely claim that their products or services are environmentally friendly. They do this by tactfully providing misleading information that many consumers, who are looking to be more environmentally conscious, fall for. Greenwashing is essentially a marketing ploy to appear better in the eyes of consumers. Brands spend more time and money on marketing themselves as ethical, rather than working to actually change their ways and minimizing their environmental harm.

Why do brands do this?

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware and concerned with the state of the world as it relates to the climate crisis. The fashion industry, in particular, has seen a rise in greenwashing as consumers become more conscious of the negative effects of fast fashion. Because greenwashing makes fast fashion brands seem more sustainable than they actually are, consumers continue to buy from them with a clean conscience.

How to spot greenwashing?

Most of the time, greenwashing involves empty claims. Brands that are in fact environmentally friendly gain their consumer trust through activism. A prime example of this is Patagonia whose website clearly indicates that their claims of environmentalism are backed by action. The more you pay attention to the way brands market their products, the easier it will be to notice when a brand is greenwashing. Below is a list of red flags.

  • Words or terms with no clear meaning (e.g., "conscious")
  • A claim that could be true but has no evidence or proof
  • Green products coming from a not-so-green company (e.g., organic clothing made through exploitative labor practices)
  • Visuals that give an (unjustified) green impression (e.g., green packaging or tags)
  • Emphasis on one minor green attribute when everything else is anti-green
  • Claiming to be slightly greener than the rest, even if the rest are pretty terrible
  • Completely fabricated claims or data


What is an example of a fast fashion brand greenwashing?

One of the most prevalent fast fashion brands is H&M. The brand has a so-called “eco-friendly” clothing line named the Conscious Collection, however, the claims they make about this line are meaningless. 

According to H&M, the clothing in this collection is made of sustainably sourced materials. There is no precise information about why the clothes are labeled “Conscious.” The collection also introduced in-store recycle bins in which customers can put their used clothes and get 15 percent off their next purchase. However, what H&M is not telling their customers is that approximately 90 percent of those clothes actually end up in the landfill. 

What the brand is doing here is greenwashing in order to separate itself from the role it plays in destroying the environment. With this “Conscious” program, H&M gets to look “green” while getting their customers to shop more by giving them a discount. Customers feel good about themselves by thinking they are recycling their old clothes and scoring a discount, and H&M makes more profit. On their website, the brand claims that this program is a way to reduce textile waste, however, nowhere does it say that only a small percentage of the clothing is actually recycled.


It is important to note that there are plenty of other examples that are worth looking into. Doing research and finding out more about fashion brands’ methods is crucial. Go on brand websites and see if they talk at all about sustainability. The more transparent they are, the better. This shows that they have nothing to hide. There is no such thing as too much information when it comes to fashion and the environment.

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