Sustainability is an absolute necessity for fashion brands nowadays if we expect to have a planet by the end of this century. While many fashion brands are trying to make a true shift toward being more sustainable, some treat sustainability as a marketing tactic. The concept of “greenwashing” or conveying the false impression that a company’s products are more environmentally friendly than they are, minimizes the sustainability movement.
Companies who claim to do all these things, like using recycled fibers, simultaneously might also be guilty of waste production and underutilizing materials. While they might get one of the biggest waste problems out of the way by using recycled fibers, that doesn’t always mean the rest of their supply chain is recyclable.
Greenwashing marketing is unfortunately too prevalent
The fashion industry operates among the most complex supply chains in the world, making sustainability challenging. One product can have multiple origins and go through multiple countries for production.
“No standard ecometric is going to tell the whole truth,” said Sarah Edwards, CEO of sustainability consulting firm Eunomia, a at PI Apparel New York. “I spent 20 years in the packaging industry, and they don’t even have a standard ecometric for that yet, and their supply chains are much less complex. What we must recognize is individual brands and organizations can make real sustainability happen by partnering with organizations committed to sustainability that will ultimately enable better data, transparency, and reporting.”
A big issue companies have in trying to adopt real sustainability and not just greenwash is the lack of policy direction. To start to really affect the supply chain, countries like the U.S. and power players across Europe start taking policy actions toward sustainability, then it will have an entire domino effect on the global supply chain.
One of the reasons greenwashing is so easy is because there’s very little legal liability reference for sustainability certifications. Many companies providing sustainability certifications are independent or private, and aren’t audited by their respective governments of origin.
On a positive note, shareholder resolutions around companies becoming more sustainable can help enact change. Companies with shareholder distributions have great transparency in what they are reporting and have reported to consumers.
To further transform supply chains, Edwards said a stronger focus on how the fashion industry generates materials needs to happen. More specific guidelines for textile and garment durability within the design stages needs analysis and development to curtail waste.
Research and development are key pillars of ending greenwashing and advancing sustainability. According to Kristen Fanarakis, founder and creative director of Senza Tempo and a sustainability policy consultant, says that one of her main goals is also convincing clients to keep the clothes they have longer. Fanarakis also said that certifications will continue to play a role in the sustainability movement, but we need to have more transparency in certification if it’s going to play role in the sustainability movement. The government needs to have standards in place for sustainability practices, and eventually we can get to a point where there’s a global harmonization among the supply chain once enough power players are involved.
The road to comprehensive sustainability is a long one, but there is hope. In the meantime, consumers need to really analyze where they are shopping to see if a brand’s supply chains are truly sustainable, and not just greenwashing marketing.