There are many companies or businesses that harm the world's climate. The fashion industry, however, is considered one of the biggest climate sinners. The industry often adorns itself with false promises of sustainability.
A uniform definition of "greenwashing" cannot be found in the literature, but it can be translated into German as "Grünfärberei" (greenwashing).
Greenwashing thus refers to the deliberate spreading of untruths or the twisting of facts in favour of a sustainable product image.
Greenwashing thus includes companies that use various campaigns and PR actions to put their products in a "green" light so that customers are given the impression that the product is environmentally friendly and thus fairly traded.
To answer the question why the "green" lie sells so well. The companies do not want to give up their core business with raw materials, they rather hope that the emissions will be compensated by reforestation measures. Nevertheless, the environmental damage that is caused is not avoided.
But what is the problem with greenwashing in the first place? Companies can suffer serious consequences by pretending to be sustainable, their image can be damaged. It causes customers to turn away from the company. Another problem is that companies hardly have the motivation to change anything for the sake of the environment. The monetary aspect is much more important to the companies, because most of them do not question whether the other goods are more sustainable or not.
A third problem is that greenwashing is not punishable in the EU. Nevertheless, the German Competition Centre can issue warnings to companies in connection with "climate neutrality" and sue them for injunctive relief.
The question of who, apart from the fashion industry, is greenwashing is easy to answer, as it is practised almost everywhere. Many professionals believe that 87 companies are greenwashing to some extent. In the fashion industry, which we will look at today, both cheap and expensive brands fall.
Let's move on to some of the brands that are greenwashing:
First, you should know that shopping at H&M is not as sustainable as the fast-fashion retailer tells its customers it is. The fashion chain had mislabelled some products. The Swedish brand then received a warning and changed this. While customers believed their shop and the efforts became visible, the company is still unable to reduce its impact.
On the other hand, consider Nike. Around the globe, 1.4 billion sneakers are produced annually. A large part of this is produced by the sporting goods manufacturer Nike. A Greenpeace activist calls trainers a "climate killer", as hardly any other item of clothing stands for rapid growth. Likewise, the "Zeit" reported that Nike violates the waste hierarchy. The sporting goods manufacturer denies the observations that new shoes are destroyed for recycling.
Another clothing discounter is Primark. Primark has been pilloried for some time for its inhumane working conditions and deplorable factory conditions. They also have a working environment that is harmful to health and wages that cannot support people's livelihoods. Already in 2008, Primark attracted attention because they were accused of child labour. The fashion manufacturer rejected these accusations and initiated measures to limit the damage. That greenwashing is taking place at Primark can thus be proven that the factories are miserable, the clothes have to be shipped and thus emissions are not reduced. In addition, there are no fair wages for the employees of this company, as the livelihoods of the people are not secured.
Currently, a well-known outdoor clothing brand, Patagonia, is still greenwashing by stating that synthetic materials are needed in technical clothing because they work better. Patagonia is indeed the pioneer of advising their customers to buy less and demand more. However, the company does not make any commitments to move away from synthetic fabrics. Patagonia did, however, mention that they have a goal of using "preferred materials" in 2025.
A report by Synthetics Anonymous pointed out that some high-end brands do not necessarily have better responsibility in terms of materials. Luxury brand Louis Vuitton is the second lowest user of synthetic fabrics, but 55% of products that contain them use 23% more than Gucci and only 2% less than Zara. Louis Vuitton shows a preference for pure synthetics such as polyester for the lining of garments. In contrast, Gucci opts for a viscose lining.
When asked how greenwashing can be identified, look for the undefined terms on the products such as "sustainable" ; "natural" or "partnership". Some products simply emphasise a green aspect by having new packaging with less plastic. Similarly, be wary if there are no guidelines on the website for the products produced and raw materials are not visible.