In the last 12 months, an increasing number of fashion ecommerce companies have pledged to become more environmentally friendly in their practices to meet changing consumer priorities. A survey from CGS revealed that 68% of consumers prefer sustainability-conscious brands and 28% also said that sustainability, transparency and ethical practices will directly increase their brand loyalty. 

Ethical consumption is becoming more important for active consumers who consider what their money goes towards once they’ve made a purchase. For them, it’s important that they’re not only investing in a brand or a product, but also into a host of progressive values such as worker rights, animal rights, low-carbon footprint, recycled and/or renewable materials, organic, local, etc. This is why we’ve seen a dramatic increase in fair-trade fashion and metal straws recently!

What is GreenWashing and how can it affect consumers and businesses?

Conscious consumerism and consumer activism aren’t new concepts, but their sudden increase in popularity does mean that the number of customers purchasing from brands with similar morals, and boycotting those they don’t, is steadily increasing. In a bid to maintain sales, certain companies have begun infiltrating ‘greenwashing’ into their narratives, making it difficult to understand what is actually green, and what is just deceptive marketing and buzzwords. 

The Volkswagen ‘Clean Diesel’ scandal is a major example of greenwashing. In this instance, they ran a huge campaign to boost global sales by promoting their new ‘clean diesel family’ of cars. The imagery they used alluded to how “eco-friendly” these vehicles were and featured tag lines such as “Like really clean diesel”, which led consumers to believe that purchasing one of these new range cars could help the fight against Co2 emissions. 

However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that many of these cars had a defective device/software installed and Volkswagen later admitted that they’d rigged 11 million of their “clean diesel” vehicles with devices designed to cheat emissions tests. The EPA found that this device could detect when it was being tested, and changed the performance accordingly to improve the results.  In reality, these diesel engines emitted nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times above what is allowed in the US! Volkswagen is still recovering from this mistake today and has since recalled 1.2 million cars in the UK alone and could receive a maximum fine of £18bn.  

When it comes to ‘greenwashing’, companies that use language and imagery to suggest that they are more sustainable and eco-friendly than they actually are, it doesn’t take long before one eagle-eyed consumer digs up the truth. As today’s online consumers are incredibly engaged with the brands they purchase from and motivated to make the most ethical decisions, the lack of honesty when it comes to how sustainable your brand is will only result in a loss of potential customers.

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Brands that are evolving their environmental strategy

Green businesses are not only opening themselves to a new market of motivated and passionate consumers, they are also reaping the benefits of a favourable public persona as well as government policies which seek to aid and benefit their company’s growth. 

Large brands such as Patagonia are leading the way when it comes to sustainability and have even launched an entirely separate site called “Worn Wear”, which allows customers to buy “reworked” Patagonia clothing. This reworked collection is created from thousands of old garments which have been diverted from landfills and salvaged to give them a new life. Another example of a retail company considering their corporate social responsibility is H&M who has created a “Conscious Collection” which they highlight with green hang tags inside their clothing. To qualify for a green hangtag, a piece of clothing needs to contain at least 50% sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester. 

This increased demand for more ethical practises and complete transparency of where items are sourced can be used to the advantage of smaller, independent businesses.  As consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable, high quality and durable products, smaller brands can invest in these practices at the start of their ecommerce journey and incorporate this into their brand story, which in turn will help grow brand loyalty during critical stages of growth. 

What actions are you taking this year in terms of your ethical practises? 

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