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Airing Dirty Laundry – How to Identify Greenwashing and Make the Best Choices for the Planet; 

Consumer Commitment Urgently Needed

7 Years. That is roughly how much time we have left to seriously address global warming before the damage becomes irreversible. Which begs the question, what can we, as consumers, do? The standard practices being followed today include: recycling, composting, and buying sustainably, among others. Yet, what happens when companies exaggerate their claims of sustainability? When consumers believe they are buying a sustainable brand but, in truth, the claims turn out to be false? There is damage done to the credibility of the brand which could be long lasting, destroying consumer trust. Commonly known as greenwashing, this practice is harmful to brands that are doing the right thing and only causes confusion in the marketplace for consumers that are looking to align with brands that match their personal values.

Historical Prevalence of the Term Greenwashing

To fully grasp the gravity of greenwashing, we invite you to look at the term’s origin. Jay Westerveld, a prominent environmentalist, coined the phrase in the 1980s when observing a resort in Fiji asking patrons to reuse their towels to protect and preserve the island’s ecosystem. In reality, the Beachcomber Island Resort was in the middle of an expansion, following a tight deadline that made preservation of the oceans and reefs secondary. Westerveld cited the deception of the company’s mission in an essay for a popular New York City literary magazine, and soon it became a media buzz word. Today, greenwashing manifests in many different ways. It can commonly be seen when a company “publicly claims a commitment to the environment while quietly lobbying to avoid regulation.”

Gen Z  Is a Leading Force in Outing Greenwashing and Sticking with Brands that Align with Their Values

In recent years, Generation Z has pushed for sustainability and their influence is  playing a key role with brands that are looking to gain their trust. This past March, Forbes shared that more generations (from Baby Boomers to Gen Z) are, “now willing to spend more for sustainable products.”

Forbes shares a study from First Insight, a world leader in applying predictive analytics to customer data, saying, “Today, nearly 90% of Gen X consumers said that they would be willing to spend an extra 10% or more for sustainable products, compared to just over 34% two years ago.” With this value shift, there has never been a better time to be aware of greenwashing tactics.

Eight Steps Consumers Can Take to Identify Greenwashing

Greenwashing can be difficult to identify for sure. However, there are steps consumers can take to uncover this practice:

  • Look for Certifications: Start by looking for legitimate certifications, such as B Corporation or Fair Trade, both of which mean companies must align with high standards of transparency in the sustainability of their practices.
  • Research Brand Legacy: Research the brand’s past and evaluate if its legacy aligns with the values they project.
  • Examine Previous Media Coverage: Analyze past media coverage to secure insight to any suspicious activity that may be present.
  • Look at CEO Speeches: Looking at CEO speeches can demonstrate if sustainability is valued by a company.
  • Determine Whether a Company has a Sustainability Officer: Sustainability officers keep a steady eye on company practices. Having a sustainability officer is a sign that the company stays true to its sustainable mission.
  • Ensure that Sustainability is Front and Center on Their Website: It is important for a brand to publicly stand behind its sustainability messaging. This commitment should be front and center on their website.
  • Be Cautious of Certain Claims: Some companies claim that they do not use certain materials which may already be illegal. These claims do not amount to a serious commitment to sustainability.
  • Seek Clarity When Observing a Brand’s Practices: Brands can often omit truths about certain aspects of their products, if the whole process is unclear this is a red flag.

Doing The Right Thing Simply Because it is The Right Thing To Do: Not for PR

Trustworthy brands have committed to sustainability because it is part of their DNA and a company priority driven from leadership. These brands do not issue press releases every time they engage in a sustainable practice. They are transparent in their approach and let their values shine through their product. They are hesitant to issue news just for the sake of issuing news.

Consumers are cracking down on brand credibility when it comes to Greenwashing. A recent Business of Fashionarticle by Rachel Deely revealed that big fashion brands are under investigation for their sustainability claims. Brands involved include H&M, Boohoo, and Asos who have been found to profit off of faulty sustainability marketing. In fact, H&M specifically was prompted to stop using data from a widely used benchmarking tool, the Higg Index, as it misleads consumers. Without full transparency, companies are misinforming the public and projecting an artificial facade of sustainability.

One solid example of a company focused on sustainability is Houdini Sportswear, a brand that is well versed in the interests of the outdoor apparel community. In fact, their CEO, Eva Karlsson, a true committed champion of circularity, recently issued a challenge to consumers to live with only 10 garments for the summer.

Houdini’s sustainability mission is at the core of everything they do which can easily be seen through their design and manufacturing commitment: all of the fabrics they use are recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or bluesign® certified. Their mission has a strong presence on their website and is easily understood and obvious to any website visitor.

Consumers Have a Critical Role in Protecting The Planet

Consumers must be vigilant as climate change becomes more and more pressing, especially as we have seen this summer. Europe is on fire, as is California. Greenland lost 18 billion tons of ice in three days, floods have destroyed Kentucky and heat waves are winding their way throughout the U.S. Consumers have an ongoing responsibility in protecting the planet with their individual purchasing decisions and lifestyle choices. Their commitment is urgently needed. Yet, in truth, it takes a village – brands, technology components, marketing coalitions, appropriate government entities, influencers, the world of fast fashion, scientists, climate experts as well as retailers. Small and large contributions are all critically necessary to make the paradigm shift required to slow the devastating effects of climate change. So, consumers must do your part to encourage the bigger players to do theirs. Be a good steward for the earth by supporting the brands that substantiate the sustainable words they put forth and keep the pressure on with your voice and your wallet to ensure companies deliver as promised….because, 7 years.

Everyone’s choices have consequences on the future of the planet. It has never been more vital to pay attention to sustainable brands and condemn those who are hiding behind false claims. Our planet begs for rehabilitation, will you help?

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