The top 5 greenwashing trends to watch in fashion
Greenwashing, or falsified and misleading environmental claims, has become a trend in itself as businesses continue to make statements on sustainability and climate change.
Like other industries, fashion may fall victim to slippery language, climate commitments with no intermediate targets, empty timelines, narrowly focused goals that select highlights and – perhaps the most Hollywood stunt – corporate deviations that challenge the whole industry but present their brand as the muse of all misguided.
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To navigate this radical change, WWD has compiled the latest trends in greenwashing.
1. Block targets until 2050
With rising sea levels, heat waves and monsoons being a new climate reality, companies can no longer remain silent about the climate crisis.
“The biggest tendency to stress is that we are now at a point where every business, at least in the United States, has to say something about the climate. Five years ago that wasn’t the case, ”Alison Kirsch, senior climate and energy researcher at the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network, told WWD. Kirsch is well aware of the common climate policies of Wall Street banks which leave the door open to deception.
To meet the most ambitious science goals of the historic Paris Agreement, companies must halve their greenhouse gas emissions (not just carbon dioxide) by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions (canceling their emissions). impact) by 2050. twiddling their thumbs to the detriment of many stakeholders, according to climate research.
“Businesses shouldn’t tell us they need more data to act now,” Kirsch said, noting that climate science is clear on immediate action. Along with blocking tactics to postpone the making of public commitments, some companies will present noble commitments in 30 years, but without concrete intermediate objectives that will lead to them.
Consumers who see a fashion company instill a target for 2050 without interim updates or concrete details on the impact of the entire company (encompassing both direct emissions or scopes 1 and 2, as well as ‘indirect or scope 3), should be very careful.
“It is extremely important to eliminate the influence of the industry and, frankly, the political influence to really understand what is going on. The urgency of climate science sets a roadmap. A number of industry-led coalitions have sprung up to accelerate progress, but Kirsch warns that while “the coalition’s goal is not to reduce emissions, at the very least, it needs to. real scrutiny ”.
2. Headlining the convo but acting hypocritically
Finance is notoriously linked to the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. Even in the years following the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the 60 largest banks invested an additional $ 3.8 trillion in fossil fuels, according to the March report “Banking on Climate Chaos,” written by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, 2020 saw higher fossil fuel funding than in 2016. Notable institutions that have funded climate chaos over the past five years were JP Morgan Chase & Co., Citi Group, Wells Fargo , Bank of America and Royal Bank of Canada, per report.
“I think we’re approaching a point where any business, including fashion, claims to be a leader on the climate and does business with one of the biggest fossil banks in the world – there’s a gap there,” said said Kirsch.
Wells Fargo and JP Morgan are the main institutional holders of companies like VF Corp. Meanwhile, Bank of America and JP Morgan have strongholds on low prices like The TJX Cos. Inc.
In the eyes of business leaders pressed for climate action, ambitious emission reduction and other targets depend on budget allocations. Under these constraints, Kirsch found that companies would do “something that looks the best but requires the least change internally,” or in other words: greenwash.
Other efforts that might fail include claiming to be an inspiration to industry peers or enlightening consumers by falling back on the oft-used phrase “progress not perfection.”
3. Burn goods and turn to carbon offsets
Indigenous rights leaders in the environmental space like Tom Goldtooth are quick to call for quick fixes that are more than likely greenwashing in another form. During a press briefing organized by the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition on September 28, Goldtooth called offsetting and carbon capture a “bogus solution”.
Stop the Money Pipeline includes some 175 organizations working to hold donors accountable for the climate crisis.
In a world pierced by social media, digital zines are emerging as another way to educate citizens about common “bogus solutions”. One of these fanzines called “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse” is in its third annual edition with its last digital edition released in April after a 12-year hiatus. The zine is supported by local environmental networks like Rising Tide North America and Carbon Trade Watch, as well as the Indigenous Environmental Network and a number of allied environmental justice and climate action organizers.
The zine highlighted a number of greenwashing tactics, including waste incineration disguised as “energy use” in environmental reports (even Nike pointed to waste-to-energy measures in its report from the ‘fiscal year 2019). The report also highlighted how carbon offsetting, carbon pricing and carbon capture are another way for “polluters to justify more pollution” by perpetually offloading their impact on other projects.
4. Stay vague on “more responsible” materials
While gasoline-powered cars, plastic-cluttered beaches, and coal-fired electricity in buildings have become the centerpiece of damage from fossil fuels, fashion is not immune to controversy given its love affair with petroleum-based synthetics (polyester, in particular, is the most widely used fiber in the world according to Textile Exchange’s Preferred Fiber & Materials 2019 report).
Brands often release sustainable capsule collections or create goals with “more responsible” materials (including recycled polyester, organic cotton, etc.) The gray area sets in when companies fail to define what makes exactly which materials are most responsible or how the capsule range is representative of their broader efforts. In many cases, the “best” range represents a very small percentage of the overall company assortment (1-8%) or the material improvements are negligible in the larger material set or the main materials that are available. ‘a company uses and in what quantity.
Highlighting the misinformation surrounding the cotton sector, Marc Lewkowitz, managing director of the American nonprofit Supima cotton association and president of the Better Cotton Initiative, said, “These terms, [organic and regenerative], a little like durability are over-applied, misunderstood and misrepresented in terms of the claims made.
While the call to reduce the use of virgin materials is laudable, experts believe reliance on fossil fuels in one form or another is still at the heart of these goals.
“The purest truth is that we need to get rid of fossil fuel dependent economies,” Kirsch reiterated. “Whatever the end use [for the fossil fuels], the impact on communities and around transport and infrastructure is the same. I think we need to draw a line, and [the fossil fuel industry] doesn’t want us to do this.
5. Maintain the opacity of the supply chain
While some companies claim to be ahead of their counterparts when it comes to durability, there isn’t much they can do in a broken system.
“I think it’s about infrastructure and the transition to green energy,” said Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council. “Infrastructure is one of the biggest obstacles to the sustainability of businesses. “
Regarding greenwashing, she believes that the transparency of the supply chain that would come from legislation to create a circular economy – where the materials for clothing come from, the use of chemicals, the use of water, who makes the clothes and how much they get paid – “would be able to tackle industries that are not genuine.”
“Particularly after a year and a half through the challenges of COVID-19, companies have reflected on their activities and [exploring] more sustainable [models]. Having COP26 on the horizon helps keep companies tied to their commitments, ”said Rush, who believes the UN-sponsored climate summit is“ a really key time to ensure [climate commitments] are integrated into business strategies for the future.
Rush anticipates ongoing discussions on clean energy incentives for businesses, clear parameters on overproduction and overconsumption, and co-investments in innovation and waste-as-a-service infrastructure to reduce waste. greenwashing while advancing the circular fashion transition.
“It’s not that [fashion companies] I don’t want to go in that direction, ”she said.
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