Greenwashing in the Fashion Industry: Are You Falling for These 5 Sins?

greenwashing in the fashion industry
Here’s how the fashion industry gets away with greenwashing. 
Did you know that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and is one of the biggest polluters worldwide? While some brands are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact, many are using “green” or “sustainable” marketing tactics to promote their products, known as greenwashing. In light of the Rana Plaza tragedy, it’s more important than ever to be aware of greenwashing trends in the fashion industry. Here are 5 intriguing greenwashing trends that you should know about:


Greenwashing Sin #1 – Misleading and Unsubstantiated Claims by Apparel Brands

Greenwashing in the fashion industry is a growing concern as more consumers demand sustainable and ethical products. However, a recent report by the Changing Markets Foundation revealed that 59% of green claims made by apparel brands were either unsubstantiated or misleading. This is a form of deceit known as greenwashing, where brands overstate their environmental claims to appear more ethical than they actually are. The report analyzed green claims made by major fashion retailers like H&M, ASOS, and Marks & Spencer and found that 91% of these claims were vague and lacked evidence of real green products. As consumers become more aware of these practices, it’s crucial to know the truth behind eco-claims and hold brands accountable for their sustainability practices.

Greenwashing Sin #2 – Exploitation

As the ethical fashion market continues to grow, profit-driven corporations use greenwashing as a marketing strategy to appeal to the socially conscious consumer. However, 79% of consumers consider sustainable fashion important, while 26% are unsure about their clothes’ manufacturing process, leading to a lack of eco-awareness and public knowledge. This presents opportunities for companies to use buzzwords like “eco-friendly” and “ethical” or labels like “plastic-free” and “CFC-free” to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Greenwashing Sin #3 – Operational Challenges 

Large corporations face operational challenges in ensuring sustainability throughout their supply chains. While running a sustainability marketing campaign may be easy, addressing complex questions related to supply chain visibility and material science requires significant effort and commitment. Unfortunately, many brands are guilty of greenwashing due to negligence or laziness in this area. Often, companies have limited visibility into their supply chain beyond tier 1 suppliers, leaving them unaware of non-compliant sub-tier suppliers involved in producing their products. This lack of oversight contributes to the perpetuation of unsustainable practices.
Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) – supplier structure Source:

Greenwashing Sin #4 – Trade Offs 

The fashion industry’s supply chains are built on low-cost labor, and as consumers demand cheaper clothes, companies continue to optimize their supply chains, leading to potential environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks. Production is now shifting to Africa as labor costs in Asia rise, and these low-cost supply chains often come at the expense of sustainability. While executives must balance the costs, sustainability, and revenue opportunities of sourcing and supply chain decisions, the complexity of these trade-offs is a major barrier to driving real change. Companies must be willing to take action and make meaningful changes, as inaction and the status quo could lead to disastrous consequences.

Greenwashing Sin #5 – Legal Loopholes 

In the fashion industry, terms like “sustainability,” “ethical,” “eco-friendly,” and “green” lack standardized definitions and legal meanings, making it difficult for governments to hold companies accountable for their unethical actions or lack of ethical actions. While over 400 sustainability standards and certifications exist, such as “Certified B Corporation,” “Bluesign,” and “BCI,” they are voluntary and time-consuming for brands to obtain. Consequently, many fashion brands choose to opt-out of certification, using legal loopholes to engage in greenwashing and perpetuate unethical practices.