Greenwashing: a possible step towards sustainability?

In the past few weeks, all media came up with an amazing news. Two big retailers, naming H&M and Zara launched sustainability programs. Allegedly, the two giants of the fast fashion industry are going to revolutionise the market and be eco-friendly.

A few hours later, the ethical and sustainable fashion world got crazy and every single brand and influencer within the niche started blaming them and denouncing Green-washing.

Do not get me wrong, I do not disagree with that. It is definitely greenwashing! However, I do not believe it is all wrong. In the opposite, I think it could be a big step towards sustainability. Keep reading if you want to understand why my so controversial idea makes sense!

What is Greenwashing?

This is a hot topic within the ethical fashion and natural skincare communities. Greenwashing is a marketing strategy implemented by corporates to push sales while surfing on the green, ethical and eco-friendly “trend”. (Let’s call it trend for the convenience but I am 100% convinced that it is the future and will last forever)

Indeed, as the demand for green products rises, companies see there a huge opportunity to boost profit. And as terms like “ethical”, “natural” or “eco” are not regulated, it is easy for brands to claim they are doing good for the planet.

Now let’s see how that is applicable to H&M and Zara.

H&M & Zara’s sustainable objectives

In its 2018 sustainability report, H&M groups shares that it aims to use only recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030 and that it wants to be 100% climate positive by 2040.

Zara aims to discharge no hazardous chemicals in the supply chain; to train designers to circular economy and to use no fibres coming from endangered forest by 2020. The brand also claims that by 2023, it will totally eradicate single plastic use and adopt a green-only packaging strategy. By 2025, they want to have lines in 100% sustainable cotton and linen as well as covering 80% of their HQ energy needs with renewable energies. Read more here.

Why is it not enough?

I do not want to mislead you, those objectives are definitely not enough to make those brands sustainable. They base their business model on fast fashion which is by definition unsusatianble. You can read more about fast fashion brands here and about their impacts on the environment and societies here.

The simple fact that they change their collection every two weeks, encouraging people to go shopping on a weekly basis cannot be ethical nor eco-friendly. Indeed the brands produce in big batches, low quality and cheap items every 15 days. They make you buy them, even if you do not need them, by making you feel out of trend. They use the outdated over-consumption model, perfected it and excel in applying it. There is no denial!

Besides, as they produce so much, they also waste a lot. According to green peace: “Since 2013, 12 tonnes of clothing has been burned per year in Denmark alone.” by H&M. So the picture is pretty clear, even if they improve the quality of their materials, they cannot be sustainable.

But it is a step forward

Let’s be honest, there are still more people buying from H&M and Zara than from my marketplace or other sustainable fashion brands, no matter how big they are. That is unfortunate but it is true. They also usually have much much more budget and money to spend on advertising.

For that reason, their audience is a lot bigger, let me prove it to you. Let’s dig into their social media following. While The 2 fast fashion brands reach more than 30 million followers on Instagram, those two (already big) ethical fashion brands do not even have 1 million.

Fast Fashion Brands
Fast Fashion Brands
Ethical Fashion Brands
Ethical Fashion Brands

So it is clear that if there are brands that are able to spread the sustainable message to a wide audience, they are H&M and Zara. When they publish those sustainability reports and reach out to people saying that they want to do more for the environment, it is definitely a good thing.

Those people, that I do not reach yet and that other ethical bloggers and brands are still not in touch with, hear about sustainable fashion for the first time thanks to those fast fashion brands. They will then start questioning themeselves about what it is, why it is important. They will hopefully question their behaviour and start pushing their research. And this is where we (the ethical and sustainabale community) are important.

Second step is on the “real” sustainable community

Once the big brands have succeeded in grabbing people’s attention on sustainability issues, we need to support those people and let them now that they should not be greenwashed. We need to be here to answer they questions correctly and explain to them why those brands cannot be sustainable.

All ethical, vegan and eco-friendly brands need to show up on socials and google to correct misconceptions caused by fast fashion brands claiming they are sustainable. Let’s see it that way: they can spend millions in letting people know about sustainability and we then educate those people while being here for them when they are ready to change their behaviour.

As a conclusion fast fashion brands who claim they are sustainable, also called greenwashing is a step towards sustainabilty but the real sustainable community need to be the second step.