By Jennifer Dobrowolski

What is Greenwashing and How can You Spot It?

What really is greenwashing? How can you spot in industries such as fashion that have very few rules and regulations? To better understand this issue, Renoon caught up with Adam Taubenfligel, creative director and co-founder of Triarchy denim. Adam shared his insights on greenwashing in the fashion industry and how consumers can see behind the “green” smoke and mirrors.

Nowadays, many companies are bending over backward to brand themselves as “green” or “eco-friendly”.  From “green” packaging to  “best in class” emissions,  greenwashing is an insidious phenomenon that has seeped its way into every industry.

But what really is greenwashing? How can you spot it in industries such as fashion that have very few rules and regulations? To better understand this issue, I caught up with Adam Taubenfligel, creative director and co-founder of Triarchy denim. Adam shared his insights on greenwashing in the fashion industry and how consumers can see behind the “green” smoke and mirrors.

Pictured: Adam and Ania Taubenfligel

When asked to break down greenwashing in simple terms, Adam defined it as follows:

“Greenwashing happens when a company, whether brand or supplier, uses a nice fact about something environmentally friendly that they do, but then uses that to hide all the other not so admirable things they do behind it. Basically shouting about the 10% effort and not even whispering about the other 90%. Don’t get me wrong Something is better than nothing but don’t make a little something your everything.”

One of the original examples of greenwashing cited by environmentalist Jay Westerveld is the omnipresent hotel towel initiative, where guests are encouraged to reuse their towels in the name of saving the environment. Westerveld noted that there was little else to suggest that hoteliers were genuinely interested in reducing their environmental footprint, rather, that they were instead motivated by reducing housekeeping costs. While reusing towels is certainly a great idea, advertising this initiative gives hotel guests the impression that their stay is contributing positively to the environment, which is ultimately unfounded.

“Basically shouting about the 10% effort and not even whispering about the other 90%. Don’t get me wrong Something is better than nothing but don’t make a little something your everything.”

How does greenwashing play out in the fashion industry?

When Adam started Triarchy, he became frustrated with the lack of transparency and sustainability in the industry. After observing the waste at fashion week and in operating his own denim company, he decided to reconstruct Triarchy’s supply chain from the ground up. While the road to sustainability was once filled with bumps and challenges, it’s hard to excuse unsustainable practices in 2020.  

“At the time it was simply a matter of trying to find options.  It was much more few and far between back then. Now there are centralized resource systems that make it a lot easier to track down responsible options.”

Image credit: Triarchy Denim

Being sustainable is one thing but communicating it effectively to consumers is another. Following the lead of the finance industry, Triarchy turned to external auditors to analyze their supply chain and avoid greenwashing. 

“We use a couple different 3rd party auditors to verify and report on what we do. Greenstory.ca and retraced.co both examine our products down to their source fibers and the supply chains that get them from A-Z and then publicly disclose all of this information. Moving forward only the brands that do this will be able to claim sustainability otherwise how do we know if what you’re saying is accurate?”

With many companies struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, research from Mckinsey has indicated that sustainability has temporarily dropped off the agenda. While some are predicting that greenwashing will become more prevalent post-COVID-19 as companies scramble to cut costs; optimists hold that heightened consumer awareness will keep companies accountable for their claims. According to Adam, we will see both of these outcomes come into play.

“It will definitely be a mix of both. I think companies that didn’t have any mission in their offering before will be scrambling to make themselves relevant as now more than ever its become clear that no one needs half the junk we were told to think we did. So in that, I think brands will make up whatever they can to stay afloat but like you said I do believe consumers are more able to hold companies accountable and so hopefully a lot of those vain efforts will die off as quickly as they come up.”

Image credit: Triarchy Denim

So how can you avoid greenwashing?

When it comes to greenwashing, there are a few red flags to look out for. According to Futerra’s Selling Sustainability Report”, these are some telltale signs that a company is greenwashing:

  1. Fluffy statements: Words or terms with no set definition (e.g., “eco-friendly”)
  2. Green pictures: Images that convey an unjustified impression of environmental consciousness (e.g. A beautiful mountain on a disposable plastic water bottle)
  3. Over-emphasized claims: Companies that zero in on one minuscule green attribute when the majority of their product or service contributes to environmental destruction
  4. “Best-in-class” claims: Declaring a product is slightly greener than the rest, even if the competition is atrocious 
  5. Imaginary certifications: A label that looks like a third-party endorsement … except it’s made up – check out Renoon’s list of credible certifications
  6. No proof: A claim that could be true but has no actual evidence to back it up 

When it comes to spotting genuine sustainability claims, you can rest assured that your purchase is legitimate when you see the following:

  1. Credible certifications such as the Global Organic Cotton Standard (GOTS) and FairTrade
  2. Detailed information about suppliers, factories and manufacturing facilities 
  3. Hard numbers to back up claims (i.e this item was made using 80% recycled materials)
  4. High quality materials such as linen, Tencel and organic cotton (check out Renoon’s list of fabrics to avoid here)

We know how difficult this might sound. That’s why Renoon is here. We strive to bring you transparency with products that align with your personal sustainability values.

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