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How to tell if a brand is actually sustainable

We all know that April showers bring May flowers. But April also brings Earth Month, a time when we reflect on how we can work together to reduce our environmental impact and create a greener future. While for some companies, sustainability is built into their business model year-round, many larger corporations (especially fast fashion brands) want to jump on the “eco” bandwagon as well, just to sell you more stuff... sounds like greenwashing if you ask us.

Scroll down to learn how to tell if a brand is actually sustainable, or if they're just greenwashing us!

a woman walks along a plastic-free beach, which illustrates the importance of ocean cleanup and reducing our consumption

What is greenwashing?

As much as we would love to support every company that puts people and the planet first, it is important to dig a bit deeper into their claims, because not every company is as honest as they say they are.

fast fashion brands use heavy greenwashing tactics, especially during earth month. Their goal is to sell you even more stuff, while turning a massive profit, without any concern for people or the planet

Greenwashing is a marketing tactic companies use to appear more eco-conscious than they actually are. It is yet another way to manipulate customers in order to increase revenue.

These companies really don’t care about their environmental impact nearly as much as they care about their bottom line – profit. And while that's obviously an important aspect of doing business, we don’t believe it should come at the cost of the environment, or the people involved in their supply chain.

Isn’t it such a great feeling knowing that the companies you support are aligned with your values? And not so great when you find out they’ve been lying to you. Read on to find out how to spot greenwashing, and what to look for in order to ensure these companies are staying truthful to you.

How to spot greenwashing

Unfortunately for us consumers, spotting greenwashing is not always straightforward, especially if this is the first time you’re hearing about it. Trust us, we’ve been there! Here are 3 easy things you can keep an extra eye out for that may indicate the company is greenwashing.

3 easy ways to spot greenwashing - generic language, distractions, and false claims

1. Generic language

If a company identifies as “green”, our minds immediately assume they must be sustainable, right? Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves “green” or “eco-friendly” without providing any proof or certifications. This is just one term of many (including: natural, non-toxic, and even sustainable) that companies use to market themselves. It's important to look past the what, and look for the how, but we’ll get into that shortly.

2. Distractions

Similar to generic language, it’s important to watch out for distractions that keep you from getting to the how. How often do companies use images of nature, calming sound effects, or literally making their product a green colour to convey to their viewers that they care about the environment? More often than we realize! Companies that are greenwashing us will do everything they can do convince us they are sustainable, without having any proof to back up their marketing.

3. Product vs. Company

One heroic action does not make up for 99 villainous ones, and the same principles apply to any company claiming to be sustainable. Let’s say a company introduces a new product, which they claim uses less water to produce. This one product, even if it truly is sustainable, doesn’t compete against the other 99% of their products that require unethical or unsustainable practices to produce. Additionally if a company claims to produce sustainable products, but doesn’t uphold any ethical values with their employees and manufacturers, they are not truly sustainable. It is important to evaluate the company as a whole, not just one product.

Some examples of greenwashing:

  • H&M’s Conscious Collection

  • Madewell’s Eco-Denim Collection

  • Mango’s Committed Collection

  • Zara’s Join Life Collection

when deciding is a brand is truly sustainable, look for whether they are being specific and transparent. the info should be easy to find, and if not, that is your first clue they are greenwashing

How to tell if a brand is actually sustainable?

While it’s important to be able to identify greenwashing, that’s only one part of our job in supporting truly sustainable and ethical companies. The second part is being able to spot the companies who really are doing the good they say they are.

We have two words for you - SPECIFIC and TRANSPARENT.

As mentioned before, look for how they are doing what they claim to be. The great thing is, companies that really are doing the work will make it very clear to their customers exactly how they are doing so.

It definitely is not easy (or cheap) to go the sustainable route, so those brands that truly are will want to share as much information as they can with you. Companies who are making true claims are aware of other’s manipulative tactics, and want to make it as easy as possible for their customers to understand their practices.

The research should be easy, and if it isn’t, that may be your first clue.

Look for specific claims. Going back to the example of a company that claims their product now uses less water to produce, that’s a very generic statement. They should be specific, such as using percentages, figures or providing evidence to back up their statement.

Transparency looks better when a company is honest about many, if not all, aspects of their company. From the materials and packing they use, to their manufacturers and employees, you shouldn't have to look too hard to find their sustainable practices in all these areas.

A great sign may also be when the company itself identifies an area they are lacking in, but then presents their specific and measurable goals for improving in that area.

Unfortunately, greenwashing is everywhere these days, especially during Earth Month, but hopefully this article helped explain the problem a bit better, and give you the confidence to dig deeper. Don’t be afraid to look past a generic word or statement. Question it. Be curious. Our future planet is relying on us.

And if you’re still unsure whether a brand is truly sustainable, or don’t have the time to do all the research yourself, the website GOODONYOU will give you a run-down of a company’s ratings based on 3 main categories - people, planet and animals.

Happy Earth Month everyone!


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