In the sportswear industry, like many others, it is becoming increasingly trendy to tout yourself as a ‘sustainable’ brand. Consumers are more conscious of their environmental impact, and brands have taken steps to present themselves as eco-friendly and socially responsible. However, behind the facade of sustainability lies a phenomenon known as greenwashing. We want to delve into the world of greenwashing in our industry, examining its implications and the need for greater transparency.
Greenwashing refers to the deceptive practice of misleading consumers about the environmental and ethical attributes of a product or company. It involves overstating or falsely advertising the sustainability efforts of a brand, ultimately misleading customers into believing they are making a positive choice for the environment.
One of the most infamous and transparent examples of greenwashing dates back to 2001, when BP tried to rebrand itself as Beyond Petroleum. They then went on to cause one of the worst environmental disasters in history due to “gross negligence and reckless conduct”? They attempted this rebrand because they knew the greenhouse gases they released were going to cause environmental disaster back in the 1970’s, They could see a shift towards a ‘green narrative’ coming in the early 2000’s. Beyond Petroleum was an oil company's attempt to distance itself from the dirtiest industry of all; oil.
However, most greenwashing is simply not this obvious. Let’s look at some more subtle examples.
Chasing arrows - the ‘recycled’ symbol
Recycled symbols, such as the well-known chasing arrows symbol, are widely recognized to signify recycled content. These symbols are typically found on packaging, labels, or products themselves, indicating that a certain percentage of the materials used in the product or packaging have been sourced from recycled sources.
Whilst the presence of a recycled symbol suggests a sustainable choice, it is essential to consider the context and veracity of the claim. Brands often misuse or misrepresent these symbols by applying them to products or packaging that only contain a minimal amount of recycled content.
This is greenwashing 101, as it creates the impression of sustainability without substantial environmental benefits.
Swing Tags - all bite and no bark
Swing tags are small tags attached to garments or products. They’re meant to provide additional information about the product, including its environmental attributes. Brands use swing tags to highlight eco-friendly features, such as the use of recycled materials, reduced water consumption, or fair labour practices. But, they can be misleading if they merely serve as marketing tools without any genuine commitment to sustainability. Brands may attach swing tags with sustainability claims to products that are not truly eco-friendly, creating a false impression of environmental responsibility.
Abusing the psychology of colours
The Green connotation: the colour green is widely associated with nature, sustainability, and eco-friendliness. It has become a symbol of environmental responsibility - to the point that the word ‘green’ now often literally means ‘eco-friendly’’. Brands use green tones in their logos, packaging, and marketing materials to create an immediate association with sustainability. However, the use of green does not guarantee genuine commitment to sustainable practices. The same logic also applies to other ‘natural’ tones; earthy hues, and colours we associate with water. Of course, the use of these colours doesn’t necessarily equal greenwashing, but it’s important to examine whether the brand's claims extend beyond a superficial colour choice,or if it is simply an attempt to create an eco-friendly image, even if actual practices do not align with their messaging.
Ambiguity - a lie with extra steps
Language: Greenwashing can involve the use of ambiguous language and slogans that imply sustainability without concrete action. Phrases like "eco-inspired," "nature-friendly," or "green-ish" are deliberately vague, allowing brands to manipulate consumer perceptions without committing to substantial environmental efforts.
Nature Imagery: Brands often incorporate natural landscapes, plants, and animals in their marketing materials to evoke a sense of eco-friendliness. These visuals can create an emotional connection, but can be misleading if they do not accurately reflect the brand's sustainable practices or if they distract from more pressing environmental concerns.
Lack of Transparency: Ambiguity thrives when brands withhold specific information about their sustainability initiatives. Without transparent reporting on supply chain practices, manufacturing processes, and environmental impact assessments, it becomes difficult for consumers to distinguish genuine sustainability efforts from greenwashing tactics.