The term greenwashing first surfaced in 1989 as, “an expression of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities.” (Merriam-Webster) However, it wasn’t until more recently that greenwashing gained a certain notoriety as many self-proclaimed sustainable fashion brands were exposed as concealing their true practices. Greenwashing is a marketable trend made to confuse consumers and garner sales under false pretenses. So who are the worst greenwashers and which brands do you need to take a harder look at? We’re so glad you asked.
We have put together exhaustive research in our 2020 Transparency Report, outlining the inner workings of 40 major fashion brands — simply put, we know exactly who the worst greenwashers are and how they’ve kept up their façade. So who are the major culprits? Here’s our roundup of three of the fashion industry’s worst greenwashers.
Unfortunately Amour Vert’s transparency and traceability is basically nothing. In a show of good faith, the San Francisco-based brand does reveal some materials it uses: organic cotton, TENCEL™ Modal, and TENCEL™ Lyocell. While AV puts forth a convincing marketing strategy in regards to sustainability, that’s all it seems to be, marketing. The brand is unable to trace (or unwilling to share) the journey of its products throughout the supply chain. Amour Vert claims, “97% of our products are made in California.” That’s great AV, but in which factories are you producing? What about the remaining 3%? A crucial aspect of acceptable sustainable practices is the ability to have transparency throughout the supply chain while also being able to provide knowledge on how makers are treated. Amour Vert fails on both accounts making them a total wannabe in our book.
If you’ve thought Allbirds is as sustainable as it gets, it’s time to ask about the brand’s factory conditions. The sneaker company is endorsed by a number of celebrities for being the ultimate shoes sans socks. But is Allbirds really putting itself in the shoes of its factory workers? While the brand shows openness in revealing factory locations (massive kudos), Allbirds, like Amour Vert, fails to detail who is making its shoes, what they are paid, or how they are treated. That means important information isn’t being revealed, including what are the working hours for garment makers, or if the brand has maker well-being programs in place.
Additionally, the California-based company has no obvious plan in place to improve the durability of its shoes. Why is something like durability important? A product is only as sustainable as long as it lasts. Products with a shorter lifetime get purchased more often, created more often, and use up more precious resources like water. Like Amour Vert, Allbirds is unable to reveal the conditions of its makers or any future durability plans. Greenwasher status achieved.
Everlane is a serial offender when it comes to greenwashing in the fashion industry. The brand markets its clothing as ethically made, eco-friendly, and radically transparent — but there’s a lot this brand is hiding. Everlane scored a measly 22 points in our 2020 Transparency Report, making it one of the lowest-scoring brands on our list and only earning one point more than fast fashion behemoth, Forever 21. Now that’s not good company.
This is somewhat shocking for most, as Everlane is one of the first major market sustainable fashion brands. In fact, the Bay Area-based brand initially gained positive recognition for publishing photos of its factories, but upon closer review, the pictures were worth far less than 1,000 words. The photos, while aesthetically pleasing, revealed nothing about the wellbeing of workers. Like Amour Vert and Allbirds, Everlane is not forthcoming about factory conditions. Additionally, the brand isn’t doing anything environmentally to offset its carbon emissions. Everlane was online-only from 2012-2017, which meant that the company shipped 100% of their product.
In a September 2019 interview with CNBC, Everlane CEO Michael Preysman stated,
“No online-only businesses are truly profitable; it’s a dirty secret because you have to ship everything. We want to do the right thing for the customer and be profitable. It’s pretty hard to run a business that way, but we tell you everything.”
Yet, thorough research via the Remake Seal of Approval Process revealed that Everlane is definitely not telling us everything. Since early 2020, Everlane has been embroiled in controversy for union busting its American workers while also preventing them from discussing their wages with one another. An important aspect of every sustainable brand is the allowance of workers to unionize. It’s disappointing that Everlane is against unions, unable to provide information about factory conditions, has no energy reduction policy, or essentially anything that confirms its the sustainable company it’s always said it was. As far as we can tell, Everlane is just another brand utilizing greenwashing tactics for sales.
How to spot greenwashing
The above is meant to demonstrate that even the brands we think know might be hiding more from us than we realize. The following questions are vital when it comes to truly determining how sustainable a brand actually is: How does it treat its workers? What are they paid? What are their conditions like? Does said company try to offset carbon emissions by investing in energy reduction practices? Is the brand revealing the exact locations of its factories (not just pretty pictures). What materials are being used?
If the answers to these questions prove too hard to find on a brand’s website, chances are, it’s not meeting ethical standards.
What can you do about greenwashing?
It takes an extraordinary effort for fashion brands to operate transparently so as to benefit all parties involved. Unfortunately, greenwashing isn’t going away anytime soon. But collectively, we can ask brands to be better by demanding answers, writing letters to brands, or sending emails to corporate offices.
Want to know if your favorite brand is greenwashing? Search them in our new Brand Directory to look at detailed score reports and a peak into our rating system!
Featured Image: Flickr