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What the new greenwashing guidelines could mean for fashion brands

FFrom the beginning of next year, fashion brands risk finding themselves in breach of the law if they engage in

Following its findings in early 2021 that 40% of green claims made online could mislead consumers, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published the “Green Claims Code”. Based on existing consumer protection legislation and applicable to “product advertising, labeling and packaging or other accompanying information… even product names”, the Code is designed to help businesses comply with the law and to reduce the risk of misleading buyers.

Brands now have a so-called break-in period until 2022, when the CMA will conduct a full review of misleading claims made both online and offline. While all products and services with green claims are affected, CMA must prioritize industries of greatest concern to consumers, with the fashion and textile industry at the top of the list.

The code could be formed around the 2008 regulation on the protection of consumers against unfair trades, but no specific guidance on environmental claims existed so far. This is why shoppers are entitled to dedicated “sustainable collections” showcases or Instagram posts on “green”, “responsible” or “better for the planet” fashion brands with very little information or evidence. to back up these claims. .

“Stakeholder demand has ensured that there is a checklist of things that organizations need to show they are working on to be considered sustainable, but many undermine it using terminology and pictures misleading in what they present to the public, ”says Tiffany Kelly, co-founder of the retail platform Beyond Bamboo.



Until fashion brands actively measure and disclose their impacts in a reliable and transparent manner, they must be held accountable for all sustainability communication.

Ruth MacGilp, Communications and Content Manager at Fashion Revolution

A quick scan of UK retailer websites reveals that examples of this are not hard to find. “Make sure [cotton] is supplied in a more environmentally sustainable manner ”; “… Ensure that 100% of products and packaging are made from more sustainable or recycled materials”; and “… we are striving to make a positive change by using materials from more sustainable sources” were among the statements made by leading UK brands to prove their commitment to environmentally responsible business practices.

Such statements seem impressive at first glance, but they leave questions unanswered. How do they make sure it comes from sustainable sources? What do they mean by sustainable source? What exactly matters as a more durable material?

“Until fashion brands actively measure and disclose their impacts in a reliable and transparent manner, they must be held accountable for all sustainability communications,” says Ruth MacGilp, communications and content manager at Fashion Revolution. “We need legislation that supports efforts like these to prevent greenwashing… with penalties for unsubstantiated claims by big brands.”

“For consumers to have the best chance of knowing that the clothes they buy match their values, we need to make sure that companies are telling the truth about their products and processes,” MacGilp continues. And thanks to the new guidelines, knowing what’s real and what’s greenwashing should be much easier.

The six principles of the Green Claims Code are: statements should be true and accurate, statements should be clear and unambiguous, statements should not omit or obscure important relevant information, comparisons should be fair and meaningful, statements must take into account the full life cycle of the product or service, and claims must be substantiated.



Greenwashing is eroding consumer confidence and means that truly sustainable brands struggle to be heard

Tiffany Kelly, co-founder of the retail platform Beyond Bamboo.

They may seem like basic expectations, but they risk tearing apart the way brands currently talk about sustainability. Claims like “we’re working to become more sustainable” won’t cut the mustard anymore unless they are backed up by evidence of exactly how it will happen. Using vague descriptions like “organic cotton jeans” won’t do the trick either. The marks should clearly state what percentage of the fiber is organic cotton and what the composition of the rest of the fabric is.

Claims that a product is’ greener ‘than an anonymous comparison are removed, and the use of general terms such as’ sustainable’ or ‘eco-friendly’ is also to be considered, as the CMA says they are ‘susceptible to be considered as suggesting that a product, service, process, brand or company as a whole has a positive environmental impact. And if a business cannot prove that this is the case, it risks enforcement from bodies such as the CMA and ASA, which can involve legal proceedings and paying reparations to affected consumers.

Until now, brands could use a single eco-friendly collection or the presence of recycled materials in a small percentage of their products as a shroud, distracting attention from overproduction, fossil fuel fabrics and endemic waste. They were able to leverage symbolic efforts to prove that they are sustainable from top to bottom. But the newly formulated expectations for evidence-based claims, clear language, meaningful comparisons, and full lifecycle considerations will expose which brands really do the job and which are only greenwashing as an exercise. public relations.

“Greenwashing erodes consumer confidence and means that truly sustainable brands struggle to be heard,” says Kelly. “We need to make conscious consumerism as simple and authentic as possible for our customers. They must be able to believe that what we are saying is true.


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Hazel J. Edmonds

The author Hazel J. Edmonds

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