Sustainable, eco-friendly, green, ethical, and natural are the buzzwords most commonly used on everything we consume right from food to clothing. Companies claim that their products are produced ethically however, we need to question whether they are genuinely practicing sustainability or it is merely a marketing agenda.

The term ‘greenwashing’ was termed by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986 to describe outrageous corporate environmental claims. Back then most consumers received news from television, radio, and print media. These were the only mediums used to advertise a brand and its products. Limited access to information and unlimited advertising enabled companies to mislead the consumers by making false claims of doing lesser good for the environment than they actually are. By the early 1990s, consumers were wising up to sustainability concerns and polls showed majority purchases were influenced by environmental factors, and by the end of the decade greenwashing had officially entered the English language with its inclusion in Oxford English Dictionary.

In 2015, Nielson’s poll showed that 66% of global consumers were willing to pay more for sustainable products. To attract the environmentalist consumers, brands started greenwashing that made it easy for corporate giants to claim their environmental contributions.

Brands make vague claims or omit important and relevant facts. In the recent case, several clothing companies claimed that they sold eco-friendly bamboo clothing when they in fact sold rayon produced from bamboo that was processed in a way that used harsh chemicals and could also release hazardous air pollutants.

Greenwashing also relates to fast fashion brands claiming to be sustainable whereas, their business model is based on mass production.

So how can one be more aware and save themselves from getting brainwashed? Here are few points that one must consider before committing themselves to the marketing campaigns of high-end brands.

Be a smart consumer:

A smart consumer is the one who knows what he or she is consuming and the impact their purchase will make on the environment. For this, accessing the brand is crucial. Consumer needs to be aware of the brand’s background, supply chain, manufacturing process, and if they are really paying a fair wage to the workers. Consumers can do a little digging by researching the brands they consume products from.

Demand transparency from Brands:

The consumer is at the top of the pyramid and brands study consumer demand and behavior. If the majority chunk of the consumer population demands specifics, brands will definitely notice and bring the change by providing transparency. Social media has proved to be a powerful tool that has connected consumers to brands. With that, it has also given the authority to the consumers to engage with the brand and ask questions.

Power of social media:

In this digital age, it is simple to write a review or express your thoughts on the product. This practice not only helps other consumers to know the backend of the product but also helps to make a wise and right decision.

Look out for Certifications:

When a brand claims it is sustainable you can check that through certifications such as Bluesign, Cradle to Cradle Certified, Fair Trade Textiles Standard, Global Organic Textile Standard, and Organic Content Standards, where each seeks to offer an approved standard across the supply chain. On the other hand,  Fair Wear Foundation and Worker Rights Consortium can help provide reports and updates on various investigations looking at the treatment of factory workers globally.

Image Courtesy: Bea Fremderman and Andrew Laumann (2016)

Written for: City Scope Hong Kong

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