A word you will no doubt have seen bandied around many industry news outlets, greenwashing is typically used to describe a brand that advertises its services or company practices to be more environmentally sustainable than they truly are. The issue has become rife in recent years due to increasing public interest in sustainability, meaning brands have a financial incentive to appear environmentally conscious. This unfortunately leads to some brands being disingenuous with their sustainability commitments, by over inflating their efforts they’re misleading audiences and more crucially not making the changes needed to have a positive impact on our environment, communities and climate.

Greenwashing Tactics

Unfortunately we cannot take brand messaging as gospel when it comes to sustainability claims. A CMA (Competitions and Markets Authority) coordinated a global review of randomly selected websites found that 40% of green claims made online could be misleading consumers.

We’ve seen a number of brands strung up in the media for misleading claims, or worse, acts with a sustainable intention that in fact had the opposite effect. Innocent’s ‘The Big Rewild’ campaign hit headlines for that reason, and was touted as “an environmental own goal” by industry critics and angry consumers alike. The campaign was centred around an installation of 6,000 plants, flowers and trees, a canvas of out-of-home posters that soak up CO2 and reroofed bus shelters with grass and plants. The irony of the carbon emission impact caused by the transportation of all greenery into the city, for a one day PR stunt, wasn’t lost on many. The brand’s TV ad broadcasted in 2021 for a different campaign, was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority with an investigation concluding that Innocent were misleading customers. The ruling followed a campaign by Plastics Rebellion, an affiliation group of Extinction Rebellion who campaigned for the ban due to the ad implying that consuming drinks in plastic bottles could ‘fix up the planet’. Kirsty Hunter, Innocent’s Marketing Director, said the company hoped the message would turn consumers into “recycling activists” and was met with a lot of backlash. 

Sustainability Accreditations

Vague language is one of the main greenwashing tactics used by brands. Look out for buzz words such as eco-friendly, environmentally friendly and sustainable because without evidence or adequate explanation to back them up, brands could just be talking the talk. Until companies, particularly those working in the events industry, have recognised accreditations from industry-standard councils like the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), we can’t take their claims for ‘saving the earth’ seriously. If a company does not have accreditation to justify the measurement of their policies, they could be making exaggerated or misleading claims. 

We are officially accredited with ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) 14001 and 20121 certifications, meaning all of our campaigns are measured for their sustainability. ISO 14001 maps out a framework that an organisation can follow to set up an effective environmental management system and helps to assure employees and external stakeholders that environmental impact is being measured and improved. ISO 20121 offers guidance and best practice to help manage events and control their social, economic and environmental impact. Look out for official accreditations as opposed to any in-house designed sustainability logos and ‘green branding’ that some brands use to imply that they have accreditation.

Look for the Bigger Picture

Another common greenwashing tactic is omitting key details that would indicate a product or service’s environmental impact. Brands appearing to be transparent with their policies may still omit certain information, such as a product’s pollution emissions, to hide any statistics that may sway consumer decisions. Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, says: “Too many websites appear to be pushing misleading claims onto consumers, which means that companies offering products with a genuine environmental benefit are not getting the customers they deserve. People should be able to easily choose between those companies who are doing the right thing for the environment and those who are not”.

We also need to consider if a claim is an isolated instance or if the brand appears to be trying to up their sustainability efforts company-wide. For example, buying one product claiming to be made from recycled materials from a fast fashion brand such as Pretty Little Thing, does not mean you are buying from a brand who implements these practices across all the other thousands of garments added to their website every week. Parent companies are another factor to look out for; the Boohoo Group own 13 fast fashion brands, meaning buying from one of their owned brands who may seem more sustainable still supports one of the biggest fast fashion conglomerates in the world.

A recent Climate Forward event from the New York Times is a great example of positive strides being made in sustainable fashion, with an aim of influencing real change. We designed and produced the latest evening in their Climate Forward series, which unites senior business leaders and fashion insiders in exploring sustainable manufacturing processes used in the fashion industry. The evening featured leading voices and designers from the world of sustainable fashion and fashion journalism, including Stella McCartney, Anya Hindmarch, Glenn Martens and Vanessa Friedman. We sourced all of the 17 sustainable designers in addition to the sustainable materials: MIRUM, TENCEL, Infinite Fiber, Mylo, CIRCULOSE and Dian Jen Lin showcased on the catwalk.

The Good News

With greenwashing scandals beginning to be a frequent feature on the news and social media channels, more people are becoming aware of the issue and how to spot it. The more we can avoid brands using greenwashing tactics, the more we can support those with genuine concerns for minimising their impact on the environment. 

The CMA has recently launched an investigation into whether the sustainability claims of the fast fashion giants ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda constitute greenwashing. Sarah Cardell, the interim CMA chief executive has stated that the CMA are prioritising cracking down on the environmental policies made by fast fashion brands. It is thought the global fashion industry contributes more to the climate emergency than the aeronautical and shipping industries combined and, if trends continue, it could account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. We need to be seeing environmental action from large corporations such as these, which investigations such as this are hopefully encouraging.

The best approach to including sustainable commitments into your brand ethos and therefore brand campaigns, is to work with an agency that has a solid understanding of how this can be implemented and measured. Chat to one of the team to learn more about how your brand and campaigns can provide a positive impact on the world.