Tips to avoid greenwashing

Greenwashing has been plaguing the fashion industry for too long – but fortunately today’s new generation is perfectly armed to see right through the tactics behind well written narratives. But as brands conglomerates and suppliers are trying to be more balanced in the way they market their greener (or less bad) products, important questions arise especially when it comes to communication. We asked three experts their better ideas about the topic.

PJ Smith

Director of Fashion Policy at The Humane society of the United States

Defining the concept of sustainability remains a difficult task – what would be your definition ?

To me, sustainability is caring for the planet and all the people and animals that live on it so that it creates a path for long-term economic growth.


What do you think is a good approach when talking about sustainability ?

It’s starts with an engaged and informed consumer. We know that conscious consumers naturally gravitate away from products associated with animal cruelty, which is why so many brands and retailers are going fur-free and why cities, states and countries are banning fur sales and production. Companies know its’ good business to share their customers’ values and see the marketing potential behind that. Recognizing this gives them the internal support to adapt and prepare for the future by investing in innovative practices and products that are better for animals and the environment.


Should we advise not marketing anything until it’s completely “green” ?

Progress should be celebrated because that drives more progress. There’s no doubt that technology will play a huge part in creating a more sustainable world by either creating innovative alternatives or finding new ways to approach old problems. For instance, fashion companies are already reducing their environmental impact and risks associated with animal cruelty by selling leather made from plant-based alternatives like mushrooms, cactus plants or natural rubber. This progress opened the door for companies to start innovating plant-based alternatives to polyurethane, which creates huge potential and investing opportunities for many industries, not just fashion.


Can there ever be a fully sustainable fashion system ?

The fashion industry can be the sustainable leader that all other industries look to, but it will take all of us working together to achieve it. By reducing our dependency on animal-based materials, developing closed-loop systems for fibers, and encouraging innovation, we can begin to navigate our way to a better, more humane world.

Elise Hockley

COO & Head of Investor Relations, Earth Capital Ltd

 What does sustainability mean to you as a sustainable investor ?

As a sustainable investor, we see sustainability as investing in companies that prioritise long-term environmental and social considerations. We invest in and support entrepreneurs who offer sustainable technology solutions to address climate change challenges across the themes of energy, food, and water.

At Earth Capital Ltd, we believe that companies have a duty to improve the socio-environmental context in which we live. Our focus is on building sustainable and successful businesses that contribute to a better future for generations to come. This is in line with the definition of sustainable development from the Brundtland Report 1987, published by the United Nations.


What do you think is a good approach when working in sustainability ?

I think it’s good to be inquisitive and curious, pushing for change and avoiding complacency. This may require engaging in difficult conversations and consistently questioning the status quo, but it’s important to do this if we are to achieve change in the speed and scale that is urgently needed.

It’s also crucial to ensure that information shared is credible and evidence-based, providing a solid foundation for sustainable practices, initiatives, and discussions, as well as having a positive impact narrative to help inform your decisions.


Should we advise not marketing anything unless it’s completely “green” ?

While the ideal scenario would be to only market products that are 100% sustainable, sadly we are still far from achieving that goal. It’s important to strike a balance and ensure that we don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Within our various industries, it’s important that there are policies and regulations in place to prevent greenwashing and false marketing. The Financial Conduct Authority regulates financial services firms and financial markets in the UK and they along with other international regulators are working on implementing measures to protect consumers and firms from exaggerated, misleading, and unsubstantiated claims around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). It’s important to ensure transparency and credibility in marketing practices while continuously striving for greater advancement in sustainability.


Can there ever be a fully sustainable fashion system ?

As a sustainable investor, I believe that striving for a fully sustainable fashion system is an essential and worthwhile goal. While achieving complete sustainability in the fashion industry may be challenging, it shouldn’t stop us from pursuing meaningful progress. A complete review of the “fast fashion” and “seasonal” business models are required to manage the high levels of unsustainable consumption and wastage. We should also look at addressing marketing standards that support responsible product use. It’s exciting to see the number of fashion businesses offering rental and recycling options. A holistic approach is required involving innovative technologies and business models, responsible sourcing, circular economy models, and transparent supply chains. Collaboration among stakeholders is key to driving systemic change. Although perfection may be elusive, we must continually work towards reducing the industry's environmental impact and promoting responsible practices, aiming for a fashion system that is as sustainable as possible. This applies to all industries and sectors. The world of fashion is not alone in this urgent mission.

Hao Ding

Business Manager at Covationbio

Defining the concept of sustainability remains a difficult task – what would be your definition ?

Sustainability is a complex and multifaceted concept that encompasses environmental, social, and economic factors, all of which are interconnected and interdependent. Therefore, it is crucial to consider sustainability in a comprehensive and integrated manner, recognizing the interrelationships among these different dimensions.

My definition of sustainability is centered on meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This requires responsible use and management of natural resources, promotion of social equity and justice, and maintenance of economic viability. Achieving sustainability requires a balance between these three dimensions, with a long-term perspective and a commitment to action that ensures the well-being of people, the planet, and prosperity.

Ultimately, sustainability is about creating a world that is livable, resilient, and equitable for all, now and in the future. Achieving this goal is a shared responsibility that requires collaboration and cooperation among individuals, organizations, and governments at all levels. By adopting a holistic view of sustainability, we can work together to create a better future for ourselves and for generations to come.

What do you think is a good approach when talking about sustainability ?

I believe that accurate and precise messaging, as well as transparency, are essential when talking about sustainability. Communication plays a critical role in engaging people and organizations in sustainable practices, and it is important that we convey information in a clear and understandable manner.

One approach that I recommend is to focus on the impacts of sustainability, try to be as specific as possible, such as the reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting natural resources etc. When communicating sustainability, make sure that information is accurate, reliable, and up to date, this includes using data and metrics that are scientifically sound and verified, as well as avoiding greenwashing or making unsupported claims. By being transparent and accurate in our communication, we can build trust with stakeholders and ensure that sustainability efforts are based on solid foundations.

At the same time, it is also important to be transparent about the challenges and trade-offs involved in sustainability. For example, reducing carbon emissions may require changes in lifestyle or investment in new technologies, and there may be economic or social costs associated with these changes. Being upfront about these challenges can help build trust and credibility with stakeholders and demonstrate a commitment to a long-term sustainable future.

In summary, a good approach to talking about sustainability involves focusing on impacts, being transparent about challenges and trade-offs, and ensuring accuracy and transparency in communication. By adopting these practices, we can engage people and organizations in sustainable practices and build a more sustainable future for all.

Should we advise not marketing anything unless it’s completely “green” ?

Sustainability is a journey, and every small step towards a greener future count. While it's important to strive for products and practices that are as environmentally friendly as possible, waiting until everything is "completely green" before marketing them may not always be the most effective approach. Instead, I believe that companies should be transparent about their sustainability journey and the progress they are making towards more sustainable practices. This includes acknowledging where they are starting from, setting achievable goals, and tracking and reporting on their progress.

Marketing sustainable products and practices can be a powerful way to engage consumers in the journey towards sustainability and to inspire others to take action. By highlighting the steps being taken towards sustainability, companies can demonstrate their commitment to environmental responsibility and motivate others to follow their lead.

Of course, it's important that any claims of sustainability or environmental friendliness are accurate and backed up by evidence. Greenwashing or making unsupported claims can damage a company's reputation and undermine the efforts of the sustainability community as a whole.

In summary, I believe that companies should not wait until they are completely green before marketing sustainable products and practices. Instead, they should be transparent about their sustainability journey and the progress they are making towards more sustainable practices. By doing so, they can engage consumers in the journey towards sustainability and inspire others to take action, while also ensuring that their claims are accurate and supported by evidence.

Can there ever be a fully sustainable fashion system ?

I believe that a fully sustainable fashion system is a challenging but achievable goal. The fashion industry has a significant impact on the environment and society, from resource use and pollution to labor practices and social equity.

To achieve a fully sustainable fashion system, we need to take a holistic approach that addresses environmental, social, and economic sustainability. This includes reducing resource consumption, minimizing waste and pollution, ensuring fair labor practices and supply chain transparency, and promoting circularity and regenerative practices.

While this may seem like a daunting task, there are already many initiatives and innovations underway in the fashion industry that are moving us closer to a fully sustainable system. For example, there is increasing adoption of sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled materials and bio-based materials. There are also efforts to reduce waste through circular business models such as resale, repair and recycle, as well as initiatives to support ethical labor practices and supply chain transparency.

However, achieving a fully sustainable fashion system will require a collaborative effort from all stakeholders, including fashion brands, suppliers, consumers, policymakers, and civil society. It will also require a shift in mindset towards a more circular and regenerative economy that prioritizes long-term sustainability over short-term profit.

In summary, while a fully sustainable fashion system is a challenging goal, it is achievable through a holistic approach that addresses environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Achieving this goal will require a collaborative effort from all stakeholders and a shift towards a more circular and regenerative economy.