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Fashion certification schemes can enable greenwashing, according to report

By Rachel Douglass



Image: Unsplash

A new report by the Changing Markets Foundation has found that certification schemes and voluntary initiatives could be helping to facilitate greenwashing in the fashion industry.

The report, which has been published ahead of the EU’s Textile Strategy, outlined that the largest of these schemes, such as The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), often remain silent on fast fashion and can provide a smokescreen for a brand’s actual environmental impact.

Licence to Greenwash, a subdivision of the UK-based foundation, analysed 10 certification labels and initiatives for the report, with each often used by brands to measure sustainability levels. Certifications such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The Textile Exchange and The Higg Index were investigated, as the organisation looked into whether they were actually addressing the impact of the industry.

In its results, the report found that across all the schemes, each failed to hold high standards and accountability and were “procrastinating on progress” for issues such as overproduction and the reliance on fossil fuels. For example, the SAC “was found to have created no measurable impact over the last decade”, the report stated, and its Higg Index was allowing brands to pick-and-choose issues they wanted to engage with.

While it seems many brands have begun taking a more eco-friendly approach to their business, CMF found that the industry’s environmental impact had actually increased, with the likes of polyester fibre use, fossil fuel reliance and overproduction doubling.

“These schemes are unambitious and unaccountable, resulting in an industry-wide decoy for unsustainable practices…”

“While fashion brands double down on production and environmental destruction, they’re using sustainability certification schemes and voluntary initiatives as a smokescreen,” said CMF’s campaign manager, George Harding-Rolls, in the report’s press release.

He continued: “These schemes are unambitious and unaccountable, resulting in an industry-wide decoy for unsustainable practices, enabling sophisticated greenwashing on a vast scale. We don’t need any more voluntary schemes. Certification and initiatives such as those in the report act as a placebo, creating a false promise that the industry will address sustainability voluntarily. We urgently need comprehensive legislation to change the course of the fashion industry onto a greener path.”

The CMF recommended that unproductive schemes should be abolished and that the industry should move forward through mandatory legislation, with other voluntary programmes required to strive for impartiality and third-party approved transparency.

Its recommendation comes with the argument that policymakers and customers both face a “false sense of security through these initiatives'', causing helpful systemic reforms to be delayed or delayed. The report further stated that the schemes provide brands with the opportunity to “escape accountability from policymakers”.

In a bid to aid in dismantling this system, CMF launched a Greenwashing website during London Fashion Week, which aims to help the public identify greenwashing tactics and the problems they can cause.

Changing Markets Foundation
Sustainable Fashion