At a recent event for high school students, I answered questions about the responsibility of clothing. Many young people were preoccupied with green washing. How can a customer know what is green washing and what is genuine responsibility? After thinking about it a lot myself, I decided to compile a publication on the subject. I’ve put together 5 tips to help you avoid common pitfalls when shopping for clothes.
What is green washing?
Greenwashing refers to misleading marketing that seeks to give the impression of responsibility without actual action, or to divert attention away from unsustainable activities. Greenwashing can really range from anything from a corporate responsibility to selling a single product.
Some companies are very ambitious, even aiming to make the whole industry more responsible. Others are just beginning to look at their own operations and take their first steps. We can use a rather sensitive trigger to stamp measures that have been done for good purposes as green washing. Indeed, green washing is not about being imperfect in one's responsibility work, but about giving something to understand other than what one actually does.
By paying attention to these things, brushed to notice when there may be signs of green washing in the air.
1. "Eco" is not a sign of responsibility
"Green", "eco" and "sustainable" etc. are marketing words that do not in themselves contain any information. There are no criteria on the basis of which such expressions can be used in marketing. However, these contain images that are so strong that we can easily grasp them without asking for more details.
There is nothing wrong with these words, as long as it is said in the same context that what do these words mean in this particular case? Is it about local production, sustainable quality, recycling or perhaps chemicals? If the information is missing, or it is vague, greenery is likely to be in pretty light ranges.
2. There are degrees in ecology
When it comes to manufacturing materials, even seemingly precise terms such as "organic" and "recycled" are available. However, these do not always mean that the product is wholly that material, or that it would even be the main raw material of the product.
En in any event, claim that these markings would be green washing. However, I argue that often the customer does not know the purpose of these labels and can expect to get a much greener product than they actually get. So take a closer look at what is actually said about the material content. Or will any more detailed information be provided?
There is a difference between these:The collection is made of cotton and includes organic cotton, but how much of the cotton is organic?
The share of organic cotton is stated separately.
Tip! Organic cotton GOTS certificate guarantees that at least 70% of the final product, ie the whole garment, is organic cotton.
Most often, organic is the part of cotton in clothing. The recycled material in industrial clothing, on the other hand, is mostly polyester. Especially if the garment is a blend material, the actual proportion of marketed material in the garment can be very small.
An example of a chain store's product is an eco-labeled product. 60% of the material is polyester and it is further stated that recycled polyester accounts for at least 20% of the polyester used. In other words, 20% out of 60%, i.e. not necessarily more than 12% of the total product.
3. Responsibility for one thing
It is difficult to create a very responsible garment, or even a responsible company, on just one element. Material is an important factor, but it still doesn’t tell as much as part of the story. The ecological nature of clothing, and especially ethics, is also affected by the manufacturing process. So if you want to look for the most responsible clothing possible, also pay attention to what is said about the responsibility of manufacturing. The same is true the other way around: the country of manufacture alone (even Finland) does not make a product responsible if the manufacturing material is not.
Based on the marketing image above, we can conclude that the products are sewn in Finland. However, we know for sure that the raw material does not come from Finland, when we do not grow cotton. And if not specifically mentioned, the raw material is probably also spun and woven into fabric elsewhere than in Finland. Thus, the majority of the work has taken place in circumstances of which we do not know, nor is there knowledge of the responsibility of the material. In the absence of other information on manufacturing responsibility other than the Made in country, ie the country of sewing, there is a gap in the data that can be misused.
More in-depth information about the product itself or from product information is rarely found. However, you can expect to find more information on a company’s website if responsibility is taken into account more multidimensionally than marketing phrases. So it's worth taking a look corporate responsibility pages.
4. Fast fashion is not sustainable
Many brands have launched more ecological collections under different marketing names. With this, I have struggled a lot in my mind. Are the different eco-collections green washing or not?
One definition of greenwashing is to distract attention from unsustainable activities. And that’s how many eco-collections and green capsules work.
The biggest problem in clothing production is overproduction and disposability. These things are not remedied by more ecological materials, and rightly nothing more than an attempt to move away from the production of fashion for short-term use. Rapidly passing trends and poor quality are incompatible with responsibility.
So ask yourself: is this garment a fast fashion nonetheless?
5. What is left unsaid?
It is probably quite a universal guideline to say that significant issues that promote responsibility are told Yes. If the fabric was exceptionally woven in Finland, it will be told separately. If the raw material were of lesser domestic origin, it would be multiplied. If the garment contains 100% some more ecological material, it will be multiplied.
The fifth tip sums up all the above. Pay attention to what information is being told, but even more to what is not being told.
Reading tip: Helsingin Sanomat 31.1.2021. The EU examined: Many green claims on consumer products are at least exaggerated.