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How to know if a brand is sustainable or not?

5 tips to avoid greenwashing

Sustainability and eco-brands on the raise, we find some are far off being ethical or align with sustainable values. Here’s how to step up from greenwashing & find out whether or not a brand is sustainable.

The colossal impact of fast fashion on the environment is better understood now than it was a decade ago. An increase in awareness of how the garment industry causes significant pollution has forced companies to change their ways. However, it can be tricky to tell whether brands are making real changes, or merely marketing themselves as eco-friendly to boost sales.

Sustainability has become a buzzword, especially in the fashion industry. With consumers seeking more ethical clothing, organizations are responding by advertising their dedication to better practices. The trouble is that many companies are now “greenwashing” their values, lying about sustainability practices to market their products. 

If you want to know whether or not a brand is sustainable, there are a few things you can investigate. 

1. Materials

Today, around 60% of garments are polyester, a 157% increase between 2000 and 2015. This synthetic fiber can take 200 years to break down, which is worrying, considering that most clothing ends up in landfills. While this material is cheap, it is not high-quality or long-lasting.

Fortunately, more brands are moving to sustainable fibers, such as linen, Tencel and hemp. While products made of organic cotton are widely available, it’s important to note that processing is extremely water-intensive, with 20,000 liters required for one pair of jeans.

In addition to materials, you should also investigate a brand’s color and dye processes. Most textile dyes are incredibly toxic, and manufacturing facilities leach chemical toxins directly into waterways. Two markers of sustainably produced materials in the apparel industry are the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the OEKO-TEX standard. Both provide label searchers with detailed information on how to make informed purchasing decisions. 

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2. Working Conditions

The apparel industry has a poor history of decent working conditions, with the average employee clocking in 96 hours per week. Most major companies have a global supply chain, making regulation difficult. In many cases, the country of origin is responsible for local labor laws, regardless of company policies. With consumers demanding more transparency, enterprises are making an effort to improve work environments. 

Finding out details of a company’s conditions can be tricky, as many brands continue to hide information regarding facilities, waste management practices and labor. However, certain apparel organizations, like Patagonia, have committed to a standard called the Transparency Pledge.

The pledge requires that companies commit to sharing the names and locations of all of its factories, including the product type and the number of workers. This project has made a substantial difference in how organizations share conditions with the consumer.

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3. Certifications

Green certifications are the easiest way to identify sustainable brands.

Measuring a company’s eco-consciousness depends on many factors, including the ethical treatment of workers, waste management practices and responsible sourcing. With consumers demanding more transparency, organizations seek certification of these practices to ensure authenticity.

Documentation to look for includes Fair Trade, Global Recycled Standard, GoodWeave and Certified B Corporation. 

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4. Packaging

The EPA states that packaging accounts for 30% of municipal solid waste. For a brand to be truly sustainable, they need to take into account how much they use. With the ever-popular option of shopping online, look for brands that do not use unnecessary packaging, or have an option that allows you to select less on your order. 

Some brands may incorporate green packaging solutions using recyclable or biodegradable materials instead of plastic. Some of the benefits include a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, more energy-efficient manufacturing and less plastic in the ocean. 

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5. Social Responsibility 

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an umbrella term that describes a company’s plan for self-accountability, including some measure of philanthropic or charitable aid, sustainability or ethical targets. 

A company’s corporate social responsibility statement often includes environmental sustainability. However, it’s essential to take these statements with a grain of salt, as many CSR goals are vague and lack substance. These objectives are often guilty of greenwashing without any real accountability. To identify true sustainability, look for concrete data on programs and initiatives. 

Another thing to consider is whether the brand’s core values align with the sustainability goals they outline. Many fast-fashion brands make broad claims while producing goods at a rate they cannot maintain in the future. 

Is Brand Sustainable? Learn How to Find Out

From looking at a company’s website to checking the tags on clothing, there are plenty of ways to learn more about an organization’s core values and dedication to sustainable practices. Materials, working conditions, green certifications, packaging, and corporate social responsibility statements can help you learn whether or not a brand is eco-conscious. 

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Emily Folk

Emily writes about environmental conservation and sustainability. She’s currently focusing on reducing waste in her life and starting a backyard garden to grow more of her own food. To read more of her work, you can check out her blog, Conservation Folks.

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