Illustrated by Massi Marzucco @hey.imateenager
Greenwashing isn’t just duplicitous, it goes against the very fundamentals of our laws of communication and the time has come to cut the bullshit!
With more and more brands being allowed to tell barefaced lies when it comes to their green credentials, the quest for ethically-sourced, sustainable and non-exploitative products has become the unicorn of every budding eco-warrior’s shopping habits. Whether it’s a ‘totally organic’ shampoo experience which includes chemical toxins (Herbal Essences), a car which runs on ‘clean diesel’ despite the company cheating emissions tests (Volkswagen), or a ‘sustainable palm-oil’ filled chocolate bar drenched in the tears of slaughtered orangutans (Nestle), at some point, somewhere we’ve all been greenwashed!
Greenwashing is when a company or brand makes a claim that is either misleading or, more often than not, completely false with regards to their ethical, environmental or humanist credentials. Now you might be quick to write this all off as a company merely doing its best to be green but being hampered by testing guidelines or supply chains. This is bullshit and it’s damaging for retailers and consumers alike!
Emily Evans, founder of local, sustainable fashion brand, Zola Amour, wears her disdain for greenwashing and throwaway clothing on her ethically-sourced, handmade sleeve. The company’s ethos of ‘f**k fast fashion’ embodies not just Zola Amour’s mission but one Evans hopes to pass onto their customers too. “Big brands will always do all that they can to maximise profits with a total disregard for planet and people,” she explained. “This offends us greatly. The only real fix is for the individual to investigate ethical claims to ensure that they are truthful and to ask questions when the answer is not clear – basically, don’t take what you are told to be the truth, investigate, ask, investigate more and then decide if the brands practises are something that you are willing to support.”
Echoing this ideology is Mel Jenkinson, founder of Brighton-based, organic and natural beauty shop, Glow Organics, who has built a business recognised for its carefully selected, sustainably-sourced products resulting in a high level of trust from her clientele. “There is a lot of naivety amongst consumers, I was certainly victim to this when I first began to learn about sustainability,” admits Mel Jenkinson. “We buy what makes us feel good and often just believing that the product is green, whether it is or isn’t, is enough for us. I do think [greenwashing] will possibly get worse with the increase in consumer demand for eco products so education is incredibly important at this stage to stop brands or companies from pulling the wool over their customers eyes. We need to be educating consumers around what to look for and where to find it, if we are to tackle the issue.”
Recent figures from Oxfam highlight how 90 percent of UK consumers would be willing to purchase a product clearly labelled as ‘upcycled’ or ‘100% recyclable’ although significantly less would be willing to pay a premium. Most interestingly however, the same report showed how almost two thirds of consumers admit they would stop using a brand if it was found to be detrimental to the environment. So what’s the balance between accepting greenwashing for a cheaper price or fighting for fairness and our planet’s future?
Greenwashing is more than just false labelling, it’s tantamount to fraud but more often than not it’s too easy to be fooled or even turn a blind eye to the problem especially with well-known, ‘trusted’ brands. “Some of the biggest cosmetic companies such as Neutrogena and Garnier are some of the worst culprits,” Jenkinson said. “Whilst I commend these brands for making an effort to create more ‘eco’, ‘green’, or ’naturally derived’ products, I can’t help but think they are purely doing this to follow the trends, as sustainability and eco credentials are not woven into their DNA as a brand from the beginning.”
For Zola Amour’s Evans,
greenwashing is a more insidious beast than just mislabelling, it is consumerism twisting trends to serve their own purpose. She highlights how one “well-known budget highstreet shop” misuses its claims of ‘sustainable cotton’ clothes to imply organic when actually upon investigation it’s actually referring to reduced pesticides use when harvesting. It’s a case of profits over philanthropy and sadly consumers often believe what they hear either to feel good about their purchasing, because they implicitly believe big brands, or sadly down to individual’s “time restrictions as well as laziness” according to Evans.
Unfortunately the brand in question is still charging as little as £12 for a pair of jeans, which as we should all know in the back of our minds, is an impossible price for a mainstream business model to achieve without cutting corners, dubious ethics and poor eco credentials. So how can suppliers, retailers and consumers fight against this tide of twattishness? The answer is simple, and one Bob Hoskins already knew, ‘it’s good to talk’. Zola Amour, Glow Organics, and many other local brands such as Harriets of Hove, Unoa and HiSBE are already providing sustainable and ethical choices and ensuring clear communication with their customers. “We are proud to be totally transparent,” explained Evans. “We show all of our team members, our processes, our suppliers and have links to all certificates that show our fabrics are as good as we say they are and flat out refuse to work with any suppliers that are not prepared to be totally transparent about their suppliers and processes. We are all or nothing and don’t believe in doing anything half-heartedly.”
Glow Organic is open and honest about its mission to discover new and innovative organic beauty brands and works with shoppers to understand the logistics small, independent brands face with eco packaging costs, natural ingredients shortages, and ethical sourcing. Jenkinson added: “By letting customers know the ins and outs of the brand, we can be more honest, create a connection and consumers are more likely to follow along the journey.”
Consumers in Brighton & Hove are lucky in that there are already scores of brands and retailers prepared to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to source checking of products whether that’s fashion, cosmetics, groceries or whatever. There are also fantastic resources like Good On You, which provides ethical brand ratings, and second-hand and upcycled stores like To Be Worn Again and a host of fantastic charity shops and flea markets allowing us to serve up realness without an environmental or ethical price tag attached. However, to truly fight the usurping of sustainability and enact the change we want to see it’s time to be honest with ourselves and be offended by greenwashing and fast fashion. All together: fuck false advertising!