Greenwashing is a potent issue in an era when more brands are turning to “green claims” in an effort to distance themselves from the ugly side of fashion. But are they as good as their word? And, if everyone is using the same claims, how do you tell the difference between a sustainable brand and an unsustainable one? We’ve designed this checklist to help spot the signs of greenwashing. Hopefully, it also helps you to make more informed and conscious decisions about your purchases. First, let's cover the basics.
What is greenwashing?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, greenwashing is “behaviour or activities that make people believe a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.” One brazen example involved an oil giant changing its name to suggest it had transcended fossil fuels when more than 96% of its annual spend went to oil and gas projects. The biggest fast fashion brands have also been accused of greenwashing whenever they’ve presented collections as having a net benefit to the environment. The reality check: all fashion makes an environmental impact, especially fashion that’s driving mass consumption.
So, greenwashing is the dark art of saying things that are too green to be true. It’s not productive in the fight against climate change or the transition to a better form of fashion. Avoid companies that greenwash by asking yourself the following 5 questions -
1. Have they set ambitious sustainability targets?
This question is double-edged, because it is important to set ambitious goals, but not if they are fairytale promises that aren’t evidenced by action. Don’t drink the greenwashing kool-aid if the brand is shouting about going plastic-free and net zero by 2030, but aren’t doing anything meaningful about their impact NOW. Those big objectives must also come with a clear plan for how they’ll be achieved.
Where TWOTHIRDS stands: we don’t like to make promises we can’t keep. One way we prevent this is by communicating sustainability achievements after they’ve happened rather than making ourselves look good before the real work has been done. Furthermore, we view sustainability as a continuous road to improvement, rather than a single outcome.
2. Where do they make their clothing?
Fashion production is often outsourced to developing countries to reduce costs. If a brand is claiming to be sustainable, check that they’re transparent about where their factories are based, and that they comply with fair wage standards. From an emissions perspective, it’s not great if the garment has to travel around the world to reach you - but that doesn’t necessarily mean outsourced production cannot be ethical or sustainable. The more honest and detailed a brand is, the better.
Where TWOTHIRDS stands: our partner factories are based in Northern Portugal. This enables us to guarantee fair labour and make frequent trips from our base in Barcelona. It’s worth noting that many organic and renewable materials are produced in nations outside of Europe, which means that some of our fabrics come from overseas. Check our Eco Report for more info.
3. Do they track their carbon footprint?
A company can hardly make effective plans for increased sustainability if they don’t know how much emissions they are producing. Sustainable brands take an active interest in their carbon footprint and seek to reduce it, independent of their commitments to growth and profit.
Where TWOTHIRDS stands: we work with external organisations to ensure our company carbon footprint is properly tracked every year. We also put a lot of work into making our carbon footprint more credible and less reliant on outside sources.
4. Are they “green” in part or whole?
As noted in this article, releasing one capsule collection that’s made from more sustainable materials can cast a “halo of sustainability” around the whole company. Truly sustainable brands put the environment front and centre by using materials with a smaller impact in the vast majority of their clothing and by eliminating wasteful production habits. Their commitment to sustainability will be evidenced in their business model, not just in one product.
Where TWOTHIRDS stands: from the beginning we have tried to do fashion differently. By relying on a unique pre-order system, we were able to reduce overproduction to an absolute minimum. In 2021, we were happy to report that 90% of our materials were, in our terms, “eco-friendly”. This included fibres like organic cotton, TENCEL™ Lyocell and recycled wool. Meanwhile Limited Edition styles help us to use up factory textiles that have been shelved by other brands.
5. Do they employ a sustainability manager?
Most brands are sensible enough to employ someone who can advise them on the topic of sustainability. This is important, as having dedicated experts should help brands keep their “green claims” in line and ensure resources are dedicated to boosting the sustainability performance of their products.
Where TWOTHIRDS stands: we do have a sustainability manager! His name is Lukas, and you can email him with any related queries at email@example.com. Lukas is our internal expert: he leads the way on our biggest sustainability projects. We’re also lucky to have Guille, logistics and supply chain manager, who not only facilitates the running of our production system, but makes sure we’re using the best eco-friendly fibres to suit our budget and scale.
One Last Tip
The simplest way to tell if a brand uses greenwashing tactics is to see what other people have to say about it! This is easier now than it was in the past thanks to the rise of ethical shopping tools that investigate what brands say and do. Goodonyou offer ratings from “not good enough” through to “great” on some of the most popular brands in the world, as well as smaller ones like TWOTHIRDS.