• Tori

Are You Being Greenwashed? The Truth Behind 'Sustainable' Clothing

In this new world of lockdown, I’ve been looking for new ways to entertain and reward myself for the effort and work I’ve been putting into various projects. And, having lived out of a 40L backpack for the past year, my wardrobe is in dire need of an upgrade, but I have a serious issue…

I’m only interested in sustainable materials, bio-degradable packaging and ethical trade.

For me, sustainability is the cornerstone, the bar has been set, and I’ve come to a point in my life and in my awareness of the world around me, where I am not prepared to compromise on this standard.

We all know we are in a climate emergency as a result of overused fossil fuels, polluted air and waterways and the destruction of natural ecosystems. But I would argue we don’t have all the information.

I have a theory about humanity, basically, we (or at least the majority) will always make good choices when we are presented with all the information. But right now we don’t have all the information, especially when it comes to sustainable clothing (and so many other products). It’s been deliberately hidden, manipulated and distorted so that big business can continue to make a profit.


Cool Australia defines greenwashing as “the term used when sales claims about a ‘green product’ are simply false…Greenwashing is the act of lying to people about the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product.”

According to Cool Australia, brands often use vagueness, irrelevant information and fail to provide any evidence that their products are in fact eco-friendly, misleading their customers into buying more and appealing to a greater audience, thinking that they are supporting the environment.

Labels such as eco, green, all-natural, chemical-free and environmentally friendly are often thrown around with no set definition and it is confusing consumers. Myself included.

In an opinion piece, published by the University of Sydney, Mary Whitman writes about how the concept of green living has become a huge trend in our modern world and how clever marketing teams have latched onto this topic in an attempt to advertise their products to a wider audience.

“Given the fact that green living is a huge trend and people are getting more conscious about the environment, brands from all industries are making effort to be eco-friendly. The problem is when they aim to seem eco-friendly instead of aiming to be eco-friendly.”- Mary Whitman

Big brands like fast-fashion, retail giant H&M are the ultimate example. In her article discussing the reality of H&M’s so-called ‘Conscious Collection,’ Tabitha Whiting highlights the vague explanation that H&M provides in their attempt to justify their recently developed, self-proclaimed sustainable range. In short, they don’t provide a lot of information.

“They don’t go into detail about the types of items they’re recycling, how they’re recycled, how they’re produced, what the carbon footprint of these products is compared to their other ranges, or even what their definition of ‘sustainable’ is.”- Tabitha Whiting

‘Sustainable Style’: The Truth Behind The Marketing of H&M’s Conscious Collection
Can a fast fashion brand like H&M really be sustainable?

So let’s break it down

The production of an individual regular cotton t-shirt can use up to 2,700L of water, with textile production representing 4% of global fresh-water usage annually.

Combine this with the toxic pesticides and chemicals used in textile agriculture and production, as well as the transportation of raw, partially processed and finished materials, the fashion industry is said to be the world’s second-largest polluter after fossil fuels.

If you want to see more, watch this YouTube video, The Lifecycle of a Tshirt:


What are the options?

Luckily, with growing global awareness there are more and more options available for the conscious consumer. By simply being aware of the issue, we can each do a little to make a collectively large impact. When it comes to clothing and textiles, there are a few materials worth looking out for…

  1. Bamboo- grows incredibly fast, does not require excessive water, and is naturally pest-resistant, requiring no chemical intervention. At the end of their life, bamboo products are also biodegradable.

  2. Hemp- again requires little water, is naturally pest-resistant and can produce up to double the fibre yield per hectare than cotton. Once produced into textiles, hemp is also known for its durability and strength.

  3. Linen- made from flax plant fibres, is strong, bio-degradable (in its undyed, natural form) and naturally high-heat resistant. It is estimated across its lifecycle that the production of a linen shirt will only use 6.4L of water.

  4. Organic/Recycled Cotton- organic cotton is grown in the same way as regular cotton, yet without the toxins and pesticides. Whereas recycled cotton is the re-purposing of already produced cotton. Unfortunately, both these processes require large amounts of resources and production, yet can be considered somewhat more sustainable than regular cotton production.

And of course, there is always pre-loved, second-hand clothing already in existence.

In researching this article I also came across a useful tool for comparing the brands and materials we commonly use. Good On You provides an ethical rating system based on the environmental impacts, the role of workers, animal testing and any other information from certification schemes and international bodies.

How We Rate Fashion Brand Ethics — Good On You
The Good On You ethical brand rating system gives you the power to make better choices as an informed shopper. Choices…

A note on privilege…

It’s impossible to discuss this topic without acknowledging privilege. I was born, raised and educated in the Western World, I’ve never faced severe financial hardship and I am privileged in my ability to be fussy about where and what I spend my money on.

But this is not to say I can’t demand better. We all can.

Want to read more about sustainability? Check out my article, How to Create a Sustainable Mindset in One Easy Step.


30 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All