Greenwashing: Fast Fashion’s Appropriation of Environmental Sustainability

Greenwashing: Fast Fashion’s Appropriation of Environmental Sustainability

Businesses are aware that consumers are increasingly prioritizing buying products that are environmentally conscious. In fact, a recent survey reported that 80% of consumers feel that designing environmentally conscious products is “extremely important.” What this translates to companies is that marketing products as green will directly impact their bottom line.

Which leads us to greenwashing. 

You may be familiar with the term “whitewash” to describe the censorship or downplaying of scandals through a particular representation of facts. That same description is used in situations with racial implications as well. From this concept has come many others that follow the same principals but are focused on particular issue-areas. 

Greenwashing is defined by The Environmental Magazine as “misrepresentation of a product or company as environmentally friendly or healthful when that may not be the case.” It is a tactic that has been incorporated into consumer marketing strategies in order to align their brand with an ideological movement. 


Take the example of online fashion brand, BooHoo, as reported by VICE:

Earlier this year, they announced they’d be banning all wool in their clothes. It was later revealed that no wool products were actually stocked by Boohoo, and that the fake fur they retailed may actually be even worse for the environment (fake fur is typically made from plastic, which does not biodegrade). Meanwhile, a 2017 Dispatches investigation found garment workers making Boohoo products in the UK earned only £3 an hour, below the legal minimum wage.


So what can we do to discern an actual green business from a case of greenwashing? We loved this article that laid out steps to take to avoid the ploy:

  • GO FOR BRANDS, NOT PRODUCTS: Look for brands that adhere to mission-driven decisions impacting the sustainability standards of all products rather than brands that are opportunistic around the labeling or marketing of only certain products as sustainable. Is environmental sustainability and the human dignity of their supply chain part of their mission or core values? Do a little digging to see what is actually important to the brand.

  • CONSIDER THE LIFESTYLE YOU ARE SOLD: The goal of any company is profit-making, but consider how certain brands address over-consumption and their product's production lifecycle. What does that tell you about their dedication to sustainability? Are they pushing for their patrons to maintain a greener lifestyle holistically or is their green advertising just a tactic for you to consume more?

  • ARE THEY TELLING THE FULL STORY?: Learn to love the data! How are companies backing up their well-written claims with actual numbers, published for the world to see. Is the information they are sharing consistent and transparent? Check out ABLE’s most recent #LowestWageChallenge initiative where they are pushing brands to be honest about their wages in an attempt to have a more transparent fashion landscape for consumers. You can be part of the movement as well!


What are some other ways you remain a conscious shopper in an oftentimes challenging or confusing consumer landscape? We'd love to hear your thoughts!