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All That Glitters Is Not Green: Understanding Corporate Greenwashing

I remember walking into an H&M store a couple of years ago and seeing a whole section of the store dedicated to sustainable clothing, it was H&M's “Conscious Collection." I was floored by the textured brown tags, the earthy tones, and the transparency that I thought they were selling me. Over the years I realized how completely misled I’d been and how H&M was simply greenwashing – and they weren’t alone. 

[bf_image id="q7klvw-7gara0-b68lrz"]Essentially, greenwashing is a marketing tactic wherein brands and businesses mislead consumers by using environmentally friendly “buzzwords” to persuade them into thinking that they are focusing on the environment and their footprint. Some of these, which you may be familiar with, include words like “eco-friendly”, “biodegradable” and “sustainable”. While you can (arguably) commend these brands for their intention and for making a step in the right direction, the issue is that they really aren’t. It’s all a pretense and clever marketing ploy which is funded up by thousands of dollars to simply rebrand an already existing product or practice. This is hugely unethical and leads to a massive spread of misinformation. In fact, it’s harming the sustainability movement and just seems to further perpetuate the fast fashion model of the fashion industry. 

When people see a product, for example, a t-shirt, advertised as being made of recyclable materials and green practices, they believe they are making a purchase that is helping the environment. In reality, the t-shirt is made only of partly biodegradable materials or needs very specific, high-tech facilities to break down the material to actually make it a sustainable or “degradable” product. Most people are not aware of this, and even when they are, they don’t take the extra effort to look into how they might dispose of the product when it’s time to get rid of it – they simply throw it in the trash where it does not degrade at all. These end up in landfills and simply add to polluting the environment. In fact, what they’re packaging as “sustainable practices” might actually be concealing labor rights infringements, exploitation of working women and children, and production of unethically sourced clothing in developing countries. The fashion industry is one of the biggest pollutants in the world and it is important for us as consumers to be aware of this. There’s a huge discrepancy between what consumers think they’re purchasing and what they actually purchase. 

[bf_image id="r52ctmsv9xk4smxk73tvfngs"] Being able to freely purchase the products you want when you want comes with a privilege and it makes us picky in what we consume. I say, let’s get pickier. There are so many things we buy in excess and for every occasion that we don’t need. New notebooks for a new semester, new outfits that will be used for one night only, and bottles after bottles made of single-use plastic filled with water. Instead, try and finish up all the pages of your notebook before buying a new one, purchase pieces that you can incorporate into your closet and outfits for more than one season, and carry around a reusable water bottle or straw at the very least. Do your part to minimize your pollution and waste, because if you don’t there’ll barely be a world left, all that will remain is your waste.

Natasha is a fourth-year student at the University of California, Davis double majoring in Psychology and Communications with a minor in Economics. She has a variety of interests ranging from marketing and media to human rights and policy and continues to seek opportunities to explore them. Being an international student she brings with her a unique perspective which she hopes to share through her writing.
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