How to Check if a Brand is Green – or just Greenwashing

We want to help you become a more critical and informed consumer and learn how to spot greenwashing among brands.

8 mins read

If digitalization has taught us anything is that lies have very short legs in online media. For brands, sustainable or otherwise, reputation means everything. A lie can be very expensive and strenuous to bounce back from. Around the world, consumer protection agencies are put in place to function as the industry’s greenwashing watchdogs. Two of their main objectives are:

  • to protect consumers from misleading environmental claims
  • to promote fair competition among the businesses making environmental claims

A recent Vogue Business article states that:

In its most recent sweep of global websites, The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), a global network of consumer protection authorities from over 65 countries, found as many as 40 percent of environmental claims could be misleading consumers.

Recent attitude-behaviour gap reports showed that every second consumer does not understand what sustainability means within the fashion context. There is no common definition of ‘sustainability’ in the fashion industry. The lack thereof on a global standard means that brands and retailers use their own definitions instead, which can be confusing for customers.

Greater customer emphasis on environmentalism has increased the use of misleading marketing

says Josephine Palumbo, president and deputy commissioner of ICPEN. Even if a brand is betting on real values and not just a façade, it has become exponentially harder to tell them apart.

Skagerak | Riviera Sunbed | Shop The Comarché

Tips on How to See Through Greenwashing

General standards and definitions of how the creative industries should measure and communicate sustainability are in development. Meanwhile, we want to help you become a more critical and informed consumer and learn to see past gullible commercial bluff.

We compiled a list of useful advice on how to spot those brands that piggyback on empty environmental credentials.

Remember that with each act of consumption, you cast a vote.

1) Shallow Use of Sustainability Terminology

We’ve identified several key concerns for greenwashing in the design industry. One common offender is the prominence of vague terms such as ‘eco’, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’. Any ambiguous language like ‘friends of the environment’ classifies as an exaggerated statement. Most of the time it doesn’t indicate the brand’s activities, the product’s impact on the environment or its ethical properties. All environmental and ethical claims used for marketing purposes must be clear, specific and substantiated.

Next time you embark on a customer journey, screen the brand’s website diligently. Fact-check whether sustainability has been documented step-by-step all the way through checkout. You would be surprised to learn how many products are advertised as sustainable just for being 100% cotton. Just because an item is made out of sustainable materials, that isn’t enough to pass it as a sustainable product. Always try to look at the product as a whole. Product pages must include detailed description of the product’s lifecycle, and whether the product/collection meets the general requirements for sustainability.

Mater Design | Ocean OC2 Lounge Chair | Shop The Comarché

2) Imposter Sustainability Icons & Suggestive Imagery

In addition to a misleading marketing vernacular, some brands attach deceitful icons of sustainability to their ‘sustainable products’. These are often in the shape of a green heart, leaf, planet, or plane leaving a trail of flowers in the air. Some companies even go as far as fabricating their own certification-like stamps as part of a larger, more serious labeling scheme. If the product descriptions sound generic, or the website’s information doesn’t relate to the product’s environmental consciousness, social responsibility or animal welfare, take that as a trigger warning. When a brand is really interested in forging an honest image and connection with its customers, their website will always offer a peek behind the curtains. Sustainable brands always seek to inspire trust and let you into their story.

3) Correlate the Certifications & Associations to which They Belong

The issue of certifications is somewhat complex since they are all privatized. Certifying a fabric or a company requires investing a large amount of money. For that reason, there are many small sustainable brands that simply cannot afford most of these certifications.

According to Marie Engberg, The Comarché’s Co-founder and Sustainable Advisor:

Far from all our brands in this category will have one or more of these certifications. It can be extremely costly to obtain global certification schemes, especially for smaller brands that might be on a tight budget. However, just because some of our brands don’t have a certification scheme, it doesnt necessarily mean they dont work with sustainable materials.

Any bona fide slow company will at least provide a section defining their manifesto, sustainable values and principles. Whether they can afford to be certified or not, you should still be able to find a detailed process of their supply chain.

Read more about Marie Engberg’s opinion on brand sustainability here.

4) Read the Label and Price Compare

If you find yourself in one of their physical stores, pay extra consideration to the material feel and label specification. You should be able to find practical information on the composition, manufacturing process and place of production. Beware that it’s quite common for brands to label certain products as ‘recycled’ or ‘organic’ when the percentage of materials this applies to is relatively low. Another trick brands will do is market small, seemingly sustainable capsule collections in a way that implies their entire range is sustainable.

Be mindful of the pricing as well. Producing quality goods with high ethical and ecological standards adds more value. That’s doesn’t mean sustainable commodities are universally expensive, but we’d think twice if their price point would hit unreasonably low.

5) The Ultimate “Wear and Tear” Test

Durability is deeply engrained into the core values of sustainable brands. That is why they select fabrics and conduct their product manufacturing with great care and consideration. If you already own one of their sustainable goods, you have the opportunity first-hand to see how its quality holds up in time.

Shop safely and easily from conscious brands at The Comarché!

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