What is greenwashing and how do I avoid it?

Greenwashing in recent years has become a prominent issue in public discourse and a major area many brands now must tackle.

Greenwashing is a marketing strategy whereby a company makes false or misleading claims, promoting itself as more environmentally conscious than they actually are. The key indicator is that there is a discrepancy between what they say and what they actually do.

Examples of this could include:

  • Claiming a product is 'organic' or  'recycled' when only a fraction of the product is actually organic or recycled
  • Use of vague terminology ('a sustainable product' 'environmentally-friendly fabrics' etc)
  • They lack specific information on the materials they use, where they manufacture, what policies they have on ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions, how they are reducing their environmental impact
  • They donate a small number of profits to a charity partner to combat environmental/ social problems yet their products contribute to the issue.
  • Promotion of a 'green' or 'sustainable' collection or line when the rest of their products do not follow the same standards
  • Environmental messaging from brands whose business models are based on large-scale production and high consumption 

How to avoid greenwashing

Rule 1: Clearly explain the sustainable qualities of your collection/ product

  • Make your claims clear and easy to understand.
  • Be specific. Do not use jargon, misleading language, or buzz words like 'sustainable', 'green', 'eco', or 'environmentally friendly'.
  • Don't give the impression that a product, its components or packaging are more sustainable than it really is.
For example:
  • Use specific units of measurement.
  • For example - mention 70% organic cotton in your care label instead of leaving customers thinking it’s entirely organic.

Rule 2: Back up your sustainability claims with facts & keep them up to date

  • Prove that your sustainability claims are factual with evidence that can be verified.
  • Check regularly if your statements still hold up.

For example:

  • Use the international standards of trusted organizations and certification standards (e.g. ISO, GOT, GSR)

Rule 3: Be honest and specific about your brand’s sustainability efforts

  • Distinguish between general info about the sustainability of your brand and specific info about the benefits of an individual product.
  • Give concrete information about your initiatives and plans regarding sustainability instead of vague or unclear statements about your company's commitment and core values.
  • Any statement about sustainability ambitions must be in proportion with your actual efforts.
  • Only use claims about future goals if these are clear, concrete, and verifiable (e.g. in your strategy).

Rule 4: Make sure visual claims and labels are helpful rather than confusing or misleading

  • Only use symbols, pictograms, or labels that support your claim, and that do not give a false impression about your product’s features (e.g. trees or the colour green).