Greenwashing Fashion Brands Under Fire As UK Regulation Comes In

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Misleading eco claims from U.K. fashion brands are set to be punished. Those found flouting consumer protection law will be liable for revised advertising costs and potential court action. The move is being made to prevent inaccurate and false environmental claims. The fashion industry has been chosen for greenwashing investigations due to its global scale and impact. 

The U.K. Government’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will be leading the charge to unearth unsubstantiated environmental claims under a new Green Claims Code. It comes after an increase in consumer awareness has popularised seemingly greener clothing options, but the number of companies claiming to be responsible has not necessarily been matched by action. The authority has already published consumer guidelines to help identify greenwashing. 

A worrying trend

The fashion industry is a major contributor to carbon emissions. With brands at all price points feeling pressure to reduce their footprints, concerns about greenwashing practices are on the rise. Fashion stands to be held up as an example of what happens to offenders.

“Now is the time for the fashion industry to take a fresh look at what they’re telling customers and make any changes needed to comply with the law,” Cecilia Parker Aranha, director of consumer protection at the CMA told The Guardian. Businesses that can’t back up their claims risk action from the CMA and damage to their reputation in the long-run.”

Increasing consumer distrust comes in the wake of A Changing Markets Foundation report in 2021. Looking into the use of synthetic fibres in the U.K. and European fashion industry, the results were disheartening. Of 46 brands analysed, 60 percent were found to be making misleading or simply untrue claims about their green commitment. Chief offenders included fast-fashion behemoth ASOS, frequently called-out chain Zara and purported eco champion H&M. The latter was found guilty of particularly misleading marketing and non-environmental clothing production.

The report highlighted that H&M’s Conscious Collection used more synthetic fibres than its regular lines. Further, one in five pieces were made from 100 percent fossil-fuel-based synthetics. The brand hit back with claims that it is investing in recycling technologies and is certified by credible schemes, including the Global Recycled Standard. This came after the report noted that recycled plastic bottle-derived polyester is not a long-term solution. Recyclability of clothing is key and H&M came up woefully short. As did many of its fellow brands.

“While brands are quick to capitalise on consumer concern by using sustainability as a marketing ploy, the vast majority of such claims are all style and no substance,” Urska Trunk, campaign manager for Changing Markets said in a statement. “While they greenwash their clothing collections, they are simultaneously dragging their feet on embracing truly circular solutions, for example by not making the necessary investments to ensure a future in which clothes can be recycled back into clothes.”

Levi’s has just announced it will be doing exactly this, with liquified jeans being used to make new batches. 

Time’s up

Time has been called on false eco claims. The CMA gave companies until December 31 2021 to either substantiate their credentials or adapt their marketing materials to remove spurious claims. Launching an investigation into greenwashing in 2020, the authority has estimated that up to 40% of green claims, across all business sectors, might be false. 

Action is being taken against offenders. The Advertising Standards Authority has already imposed fines and restrictions on large companies, setting a precedent for others. BMW and Shell have both had ads reviewed and subsequently banned for being misleading.

Over in New York, even more progress is being made. If passed, the new fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act will make the state the first in the U.S. to punish climate change contributing brands. 


All images courtesy of Unsplash.

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