Scrolling through my Instagram and Facebook feeds these past several months has left me agitated. Of course, there are a lot of things to be agitated about in the world right now, and I know I’m not alone in that emotion! But all the obvious things aside, what I wanted to focus on here is the subject of greenwashing. and the willful deception of consumers seeking to support companies with an environmental mission. What is greenwashing? Merriam Webster defines it as, “expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities.” More to the point, the Cambridge Dictionary states it plainly: “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”
Now more than ever, people are wanting to make their dollars count, and choose to support businesses that seek to make an impact, but there are unscrupulous businesses who well know this and lure customers with the language of activism. I have a thing about authenticity and transparency, and I feel protective toward consumers who are being deceived. I am encouraged to notice that people are becoming more and more knowledgeable about environmental issues, and are starting to ask important questions, so companies will soon be less able to use these tactics; in the meantime, how can you spot greenwashing and more importantly, how can you protect yourself? For obvious reasons, I will focus here on apparel companies, also because this is where I notice a big current greenwashing trend. Here are a few things to look for, and actions you can take.
HOW DO I KNOW IF APPAREL IS ECO-FRIENDLY/ETHICAL?
Fabric content: There are several clues that will tell you. As far as earth-friendly fabrics go, look for 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, RPET, tencel, or recycled cotton scraps. Polyester is not eco-friendly, and if the description just says “cotton” that means it is conventional cotton grown with pesticides and toxic chemicals which are harmful to both farmers and the environment. While cotton is indeed a natural fiber, the way it’s grown is the gamechanger.
Color options: As exciting as it is to see twelve color options for a shirt you want to buy, it’s a sign that the garment is not earth-friendly. Most of the apparel with myriad options are not made from eco-friendly fabrics and are drop-shipped from a central warehouse, possibly overseas, which creates a bigger carbon footprint (and a lot longer wait time to receive your product). These companies make their money by purchasing cheap cotton or cotton/poly bend tees, slapping on a design, and charging a high price that they know people will pay if they think the garment is eco-friendly. An eco-friendly apparel retailer may not have the same design available in ten different colors, but you can be sure that the garment is good quality and thoughtfully made.
Carbon Footprint: This can be confusing and complicated, but here’s a little info. A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases—primarily carbon dioxide—released into the atmosphere by a particular human activity. Apparel that is manufactured overseas has a bigger carbon footprint than apparel that is manufactured domestically because of the need to ship the product to the retailer and then from the retailer to the customer. Keeping products produced domestically and printed or embellished locally minimizes your environmental impact. Don’t be afraid to ask where products are made and where they are shipped from. Some companies still aren’t entirely transparent about this when they answer, but you will learn in time who is being truthful and who is muddying the waters.
Design Messaging on the apparel: This one might seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people are fooled into thinking that an environmental message printed on a tee means that shirt is eco-friendy. Just because a tee says, “Eco Warrior” does NOT mean it is eco-friendly. Go to the website, click to the product and check the fabric content. Some sites just state their tees are made with sustainable materials, but that’s not good enough – if it doesn’t list fabric content, be skeptical. Also, check their mission statement or “About” section, number of color options as mentioned above, and shipping times to get a clearer picture.
“This Tee Plants XX trees, or removes XX pounds of trash from the ocean”: This one will take a little more research, but take it seriously. There are some awesome apparel companies that are passionate and committed to doing exactly what they say. It won’t be hard to determine who they are because there will be ample proof on their website about how they give back and photo evidence of their action and impact. They will be excited to talk about their work and be transparent and educational. Be wary of companies that don’t name the particular organizations they donate to, how and where trees are planted, how and where trash is removed from the oceans. Again, you have the right to know where your donation money is going if you choose to purchase somewhere, and should by all means ask questions. You will notice that in the comment section of social media ads, companies that are asked for these details will be silent on this question, but respond to others. Red flag.
Ethically made: This is particularly important for apparel companies. The apparel industry has historically been one of the worst offenders in unethical treatment of workers, child labor, unfair and unsafe business practices, and consumers should be very concerned about where their clothing comes from. While there are some safe and ethical overseas manufacturers, there are many that are not. Ask where the apparel is made and if the company can provide proof of ethical/socially responsible practices. For example, you can be sure that our apparel is ethically made in the USA with a focus on environmental impact.
Packaging: We’re a stickler for this one. There is no point in creating an earth-friendly product if the packaging you ship it in isn’t eco-friendly. There are a lot of green packaging options available to companies, and conscientious retailers will not skimp on this important detail.
The most important thing for you to know as a consumer is that it is your right to ask questions and expect answers. Ask thoughtfully and expect a thoughtful reply. Remember, companies that are intent on doing good and committed to their mission will be happy that you asked, appreciate the dialogue and be transparent and informative in their answers. Some companies may be transitioning to more eco-friendly fabrics, so know that this can be a process and some deserve patience while they work to green their business.
Buying local, buying from mission-driven companies, making earth-friendly purchases, and supporting small businesses are all great ways to change the way we consume. The planet deserves better and so do you! Things are changing, and that change is much needed. With thoughtful and intentional spending, perhaps we can build stronger communities and foster a connectedness that shapes a healthier, more hopeful future. I hope this information is helpful! As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out! We’re here to help and we welcome the dialogue!
Tracy Strandness, Owner/Founder