Navigating Sustainable Fashion: A Comprehensive Glossary to Unmask Greenwashing

Navigating Sustainable Fashion: A Comprehensive Glossary to Unmask Greenwashing

In the era of sustainable fashion, staying informed is key to making responsible choices and uncovering the truth behind the labels. Our sustainable fashion glossary serves as your compass, providing definitions, insights, and legal perspectives on eight crucial terms that will empower you to see through greenwashing and understand the genuine impact of your garments.


1. Sustainable Fashion:

Sustainable fashion represents an eco-conscious approach to clothing production and consumption. It involves considering environmental, social, and ethical aspects throughout the supply chain.

Legal Angle: There are no specific laws governing "sustainable fashion,". This means that brands can use the term without having to achieve any emissions benchmarks. While there are consumer protection regulations that may address false advertising and greenwashing, we recommend you dip deeper into brands, to see if they have any quantifiable evidence to back up their sustainable claims.


2. Greenwashing:

Greenwashing is the deceptive marketing practice where brands make false or exaggerated sustainability claims to appear more environmentally responsible than they actually are.

For example, in a 2020 case, the fast fashion brand Zara faced allegations of greenwashing. They were accused of making false sustainable claims while using non-environmentally friendly practices.

(Source: "Zara Accused of Greenwashing by Consumer Advocates," Bloomberg, Nov 2020)


3. Organic Cotton:

Organic cotton is grown without synthetic pesticides or genetically modified organisms. It is a more sustainable alternative to conventional cotton farming, which heavily relies on chemicals. However, the fashion industry's increased use of organic cotton faces challenges like higher water consumption due to less efficient organic farming methods. The need for larger land areas to meet demand potentially contributes to deforestation and habitat loss, meaning that organic cotton still has adverse effects on the planet.


4. Upcycling:

Upcycling involves transforming discarded materials or garments into new, higher-value items, reducing waste and extending the lifespan of clothing.

Fact: Upcycling diverts textile waste from landfills, reducing the fashion industry's environmental footprint.


5. Fair Trade:

Fair Trade principles ensure that garment workers receive fair wages and safe working conditions. It promotes equity and ethical practices in fashion manufacturing.

Legal Angle: Fair Trade principles may be regulated under labour laws and trade agreements.


6. Circular Economy:

A circular economy seeks to minimize waste and continually recycle resources. In fashion, it involves reusing, repairing, recycling, or upcycling clothing to extend its life cycle. Circular refers to keeping resources in a closed loop, rather than making, wearing and discarding clothing for landfill, which is known as a ‘linear’ model.

Fact: A circular economy reduces the environmental impact of fashion by extending product lifespans and minimising waste.


7. Transparency:

Transparency in fashion refers to brands openly sharing information about their supply chain, materials, and manufacturing processes, allowing consumers to make informed choices. In our opinion, the more transparent a brand is, the better.

Legal angle: In January 2023, the EU expanded transparency requirements for companies in the EU. This will mean clothing brands selling and operating within the EU will be held accountable for the impact of their operations on the environment and people working within their supply chains.

It’s only a start, but it’s a step in the right direction.


8. Carbon Footprint:

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, produced during the life cycle of a garment, from production to disposal.

Understanding these terms and their legal implications empowers you to distinguish between genuine sustainability efforts and greenwashing in the fashion industry. By questioning brands, seeking quantifiable claims, and supporting transparent practices, you can make a significant impact in building a more sustainable future for fashion and the planet.

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