Greenwashing: The Growing Crisis And How To Be Aware Of It

WORDS: SUSANNE NORRIS
FEATURE IMAGE: CHRIS LEE

Opting for sustainable products takes time and research. We all know we should be choosing reusable bottles over plastic ones, but what about tracking the carbon footprint of your product? Or whether it was produced somewhere with sustainable and ethical guidelines?  This is where it gets complicated and time consuming.

It can be tempting to let companies do the hard work for you. If an Instagram advert says a product is totally ethical, who are we to refute that? Taking claims at face value certainly doesn’t take as much time as doing the researching and fact-checking yourself.

Being misguided about sustainable choices is where the phrase ‘greenwashing’ originates from. According to business website TechTarget, ‘Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice’. 

Greenwashing isn’t a new term. Major newspapers, such as The Guardian, have been talking about it since 2016. However, the conversation is only increasing, which is exactly what happened recently with Marie Claire’s partnership with Kmart. Marie Claire ran an article comparing ethical brands such as Organic Crew to Kmart. For example, they would take a T-Shirt from a known ethical brand – often priced at $50 upwards – and compare it to a Kmart alternative for less than $5. 

This cheaper alternative would be great if Kmart’s clothing was indeed ethically made. But according to an Oxfam report, Kmart have clothing factories in Bangladesh and Vietnam. These factories do not pay their workers living wage, but rather rely on paying minimum wage to keep prices down. This in turn keeps workers trapped in a cycle of poverty they cannot break.

When you compare this to a company like Organic Crew – who pay their workers living wage – the difference between the two is obvious. Kmart may provide a much lower price mark for the consumer, but it’s coming at a much higher cost to workers in the textile industry. Whilst this is of course appalling, it’s the advertising which lead to huge debate on social media. How could Marie Claire – a huge, trusted magazine – suggest Kmart are an ethical brand when evidence points to the contrary? The publication was accused of greenwashing. They made Kmart tees seem like a viable alternative, when in actual fact they weren’t being transparent enough about the origin of the shirts and how much workers were being paid. 

Individuals, blogs and larger publications took to the internet and social media to call Marie Claire and Kmart out. This must be viewed as a good sign. It’s proof that taking time to research where products are coming from can help us make more sustainable and ethical choices. With just a little more education on issues such as this one, individuals will be able to make better choices without relying on taking advertising at face value.