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How to identify and avoid greenwashing in the fashion and textile industry

By Sponsor

7 Jul 2022


Image: Lenzing

Not just a buzzword, sustainability is a firm necessity to safeguard the future of fashion. As fashion companies, manufacturers, organisations, and consumers alike learn more about the environmental, social, and economic impact the industry has on the planet, the need to make clear and concise sustainability claims has only skyrocketed. But with brands ranging from fast-fashion kings to luxury players promoting 'green', 'sustainable' and 'conscious' collections each season, regulating these claims only becomes more urgent. With greenwashing more prominent than ever, how can companies and consumers avoid falling prey to the greenwashing trap? Here we speak to Caroline Ledl, Head of Product Management, Global Textile Business, at leading fiber manufacturer Lenzing to learn more about how consumers can identify the trap, as well as innovations that uphold high sustainability standards, and how to help eliminate greenwashing within the fashion and textile industry.

How would you define greenwashing in your own words?

To me, greenwashing is when an organisation or brand makes misleading or false statements about the sustainability of a product or a service. As it is incorrect information, it's misleading to consumers and other companies and tells a false narrative.

Caroline Ledl, Head of Product Management, Global Textile Business at Lenzing. Image: Lenzing

Why would organisations or brands intentionally (or unintentionally) use greenwashing tactics?

Some do it to make their products or services look more sustainable than they are, thereby creating a better reputation in the market. Sustainability has become trendy in the last few years and is commonly asked after. Consumers, especially those from the younger generations, are much more aware of their environmental footprint, as well as ongoing social issues worldwide. For that reason, they're looking for more sustainable products, which can lead to many companies beefing up the green credentials of their products. It's not always done intentionally because it remains a complicated topic, but it happens more often than we realise.

Why is greenwashing problematic for the fashion and textile industry?

A lot of people are aware that the production of garments remains a 'dirty business'. Many of us are aware of the amount of water, energy, and chemicals used within the industry to make clothes, but there are also several social issues concerning workers' rights, like the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, which underlines the industry's problems with sustainability. Thankfully there are NGOs, consumers, and organisations pushing for positive change, like the use of less polluting chemicals and better social standards. Even though many organisations are trying to make a positive impact and bring around real sustainable change, greenwashing casts a bad light across the whole industry. When companies or manufacturers make themselves seem more sustainable and responsible than they are, it negatively impacts the potential for implementing better structures and production methods. You see, greenwashing not only misleads consumers into purchasing a product or service that may not be as sustainable as they think, but also hinders those trying to improve environmental and social issues. This is where greenwashing becomes truly problematic, as it stops sustainable change.

How can consumers identify and avoid greenwashing?

By educating themselves a little bit about what they are purchasing. First, I recommend always looking at a garment's label before considering buying it. Look at what materials it is made from. Is it organic cotton, TENCEL™ branded lyocell fibers, viscose, or even 100% polyester? Each material has a different impact on the environment, so you have the possibility of making a sustainable choice there. I also recommend looking out for certifications or logos on the label that assure the sustainability claims or credentials of the garments, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification. Suppose companies want to share all the sustainable information concerning their garments. In that case, they can also add a QR code or an additional swing tag that offers more details about how and where the garment was made and under what conditions.

Image: Lenzing

How can brands and organisations prevent (accidental) greenwashing?

Transparency and traceability, specifically when looking at raw materials. If they prove that the fibers are sustainable, they create credibility and trust with consumers and peers. At Lenzing, we have our Fiber Identification technology to verify our Lenzing fibers, which ensures brands and retailers that their fibers come from a sustainable source.

What guidelines or tips can you share for brands to better communicate their sustainability claims?

New guidelines are set to be introduced soon in the UK and Europe, but I think being certified before making any claims is a step in the right direction. Lenzing, for example, offers a specific set of claims and statements that come with internal and external certifications that support the use of our sustainable fibers, so retailers and brands can rest assured concerning their sustainability statements. A lifecycle asset of the product that takes the entire product's lifespan into account is also a great way of sharing all the information behind production while offering consumers more confidence in their purchase.

What are some innovations emerging to help with greenwashing?

When we look at greenwashing and making sustainability claims, transparency is one of the most critical enablers. We have a Fiber Identification technology at Lenzing that provides physical identification of fiber origin at different stages of textile products such as the fabric and garment level. Furthermore, Lenzing also partnered with tech company TextileGenesis™ to launch a blockchain platform to improve supply chain transparency and traceability in the textile industry. These initiatives are important as they empower brands to make the right sustainability statements and claims, which is vital for those also looking to reduce their environmental impact. We are seeing these types of innovations emerging more, which is great and will help bring truly sustainable change.

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