Fashion's eco-claims: Truth or trendy marketing?

Fashion's eco-claims: Truth or trendy marketing?

As consumer awareness of sustainability grows, green marketing in fashion has become both a competitive advantage and a minefield. The industry faces scrutiny over greenwashing tactics amidst efforts to appear eco-friendly.

Green marketing has become a crucial tool for many fashion enterprises to gain a competitive advantage. However, it has also given rise to greenwashing tactics, where companies make their products appear more environmentally friendly than they really are.

The multi-trillion-dollar fashion and textile industry is known as one of the largest polluters worldwide. It is therefore no surprise that green marketing claims are facing increased scrutiny.

In 2022, fashion giant H&M was sued for allegations of greenwashing. A year later, Nike was also hit with a lawsuit over misleading sustainability marketing. Both lawsuits were later dropped or dismissed, but not before generating headlines worldwide.

According to Dr Saniyat Islam, a senior lecturer in Fashion Enterprise and Sustainable Innovation at RMIT University, a common greenwashing tactic employed by fashion brands is the use of vague language.

“Brands may use terms like ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, or ‘natural’ without providing any clear definition or evidence of what these terms mean,” he said.

“Some brands may highlight one small, environmentally friendly aspect of their product while ignoring the larger environmental impact. For example, a brand might advertise that their packaging or swing tag is recyclable, but the product itself is not eco-friendly.”

A swing tag hanging from a clothing item that says Save our Planet As consumer awareness of sustainability grows, green marketing in fashion has become more popular. (Photo: blacksalmon –

RMIT University Vietnam researcher Associate Professor Rajkishore Nayak explained that greenwashing in fashion can happen at all stages, from sourcing raw materials to manufacturing, packaging, distribution and retail – all the way until the end-of-life stage of a product.

For example, a brand selling “eco-friendly” denim trousers made from “organic cotton” can have several stages for greenwashing. It can start with the organic certifications of the cotton fibre, which can be hard to verify. Next, the manufacturing processes for denim can involve dyeing, printing, and finishing that release chemical-laden wastewater. The carbon footprint produced in the packaging material and transportation impacts the eco-friendliness of the product. Then, marketing strategies used by the brand may entice consumers to buy more, leading to overconsumption.

An example related to the end-of-life stage is fashion items made from recycled PET bottles. As explained by, a website dedicated to exposing greenwashing tactics used by big brands, the process of transforming bottles into fashion items is not a sustainable solution. If the plastic had remained as a bottle, it could have been recycled or reused multiple times. Once the plastic is converted into fibre, it cannot be recycled further and will eventually end up in landfill or be incinerated.

Dr Carol Tan, Program Manager of the Master of Fashion (Entrepreneurship) at RMIT University, warned that greenwashing can mislead consumers who are trying to make environmentally friendly choices. It can be difficult for them to distinguish between products that are genuinely sustainable and those that are simply marketed as such.

“Moreover, by creating a false impression of environmental responsibility, greenwashing can undermine the efforts of fashion companies that are genuinely trying to be sustainable,” she said.

“Ultimately, greenwashing diverts attention away from environmental issues. It can contribute to complacency and delay the changes that are needed to address these issues.”

Two women shoping for bags Greenwashing can mislead consumers who are trying to make environmentally friendly choices. (Photo: Pexels)

Dr Carol Tan shared six key recommendations for fashion companies to impactfully decrease their environmental footprint.

Reduce overproduction

Fashion businesses need to reduce overproduction, as unsold items often ending up in landfill. Brands can use data-driven forecasting to better predict demand. Ideally, they should adopt a made-to-order model, where items are only produced when a customer places an order.

Improve material sourcing

They should improve material sourcing and switch to more sustainable materials, such as plant-based fibres and regenerative cellulose. They also need to ensure that their materials are sourced ethically, with fair pay and conditions for workers.

Implement circular business practices

All fashion businesses should attempt to implement circular business practices, which involves designing products with longevity, and creating systems for repair, resale, and recycling options (where possible). 

Be more transparent

Fashion brands need to be more transparent about their supply chains and manufacturing processes, allowing consumers to make more informed choices.

Invest in research and development

Investing in research and development to find new and more sustainable ways of producing clothing can be extremely beneficial. This could include new colouration techniques that use less water or have less impact on the environment.

Educate consumers

Finally, fashion businesses need to educate consumers about the environmental impact of their purchases, and how to care for their clothes in a way that extends their lifespan and reduces their environmental footprint.

Read more on this topic in “Unraveling Green Marketing and Greenwashing: A Systematic Review in the Context of the Fashion and Textiles Industry”, an article published in the Sustainability journal by MDPI and authored by Aayushi Badhwar, Dr Saniyat Islam, Dr Carol Tan, Dr Tarun Panwar, Dr Stephen Wigley and Associate Professor Rajkishore Nayak.

Story: Ngoc Hoang

Masthead image: smirart – | Thumbnail image: HalynaRom –

  • Sustainability
  • Fashion
  • Research

Related news