How do we use policy to bring transparency to how we market sustainability in fashion— a very self-regulated industry notorious for greenwashing?
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“Greenwashing,” a play on “whitewashing,” is a descriptive term used to imply using misleading information about a product’s environmental benefits. The claims in “greenwashing” are often unsubstantiated and can mislead consumers. Sometimes these claims are only partially true or the purported benefit is actually worse than the alternative.
The danger of “greenwashing” is that it can lead consumers who are concerned about the environment, who want to purchase sustainable products, to do the opposite. They may unintentionally contribute to the environmental issues they seek to solve.
It has been reported, that as the number of consumers concerned about the environment increases, so does greenwashing and its negative effects. (Green Washing | Environmental Health Perspectives | Vol. 118, No. 6 (nih.gov)
In fashion, it now seems like every brand claims to be “sustainable” or “low-impact.” But as sustainable fashion communications advisor, Emelie Gintzburger Akerbrant, told Vogue Business last summer “there is so much noise and so much happening around sustainability. We don’t know what’s real and what’s fake.” (The flawed ways brands talk about sustainability | Vogue Business).
How can we curb the rise of “greenwashing” and the negative impacts on consumers and the environment?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the US governmental entity charged with protecting consumers by preventing unfair and deceptive business practices including false advertising.
The FTC created the Green Guides in 1992 to help businesses communicate their environmental claims in their marketing. The Green Guides are essential for holding businesses accountable who blatantly greenwash.
But some critical items are missing from the guides, including shared definitions of words like “sustainable,” “natural,” and “organic,” among others. The Green Guides also have not been updated since 2012, and now there is so much more data, science, and understanding about environmental issues and what needs to be done to solve them.
What’s Included in The Green Guides?
*General Environmental Benefit Claims *Carbon Offsets *Certification and Seals of Approval
*Compostable *Degradable *Free of Claims *Non-toxic claims *Ozone Safe and Ozone Friendly
*Recyclable *Recycled Content *Renewable Energy Claims *Renewable Materials Claims
What Is Not Included in The Green Guides?
- Sustainability Claims
- Organic/Natural Claims
What Is Next with The Green Guides?
The Green Guides have not been updated since 2012. Much has changed in technology and consumer awareness in these past 9 years. With a new Administration and Congress, the time is right for the FTC to undergo a review of this critical document. Do there need to be changes to the existing Guides? Should the Guides address sustainability and organic/natural claims?
How Can You Be Involved in Improving The Green Guides?
Fashion and beauty retail businesses should review The Green Guides to see how they work for their companies. Where do they see need for improvement? Should the FTC look at Sustainability, Organic and Natural environmental claims? Has consumer understanding changed perception of claims? Could technology be utilized more effectively to substantiate environmental claims? The industry needs to tell their elected officials what works for their business and their customers.