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At London Fashion Week, Activists Come Clean About Greenwashing

Sustainability campaigners are putting brands through the wringer with a new website that highlights what they say is rampant greenwashing in the fashion industry.

At London Fashion Week on Monday, protestors from the Changing Markets Foundation and Extinction Rebellion rallied outside The Old Selfridges Hotel with banners and flyers pointing people to Greenwash.com, an interactive “virtual launderette” that takes luxury, sportswear and fast fashion companies to task for sudsing up environmental claims with no solid evidence to back them up.

“When fashion brands greenwash it’s more than just marketing,” George Harding-Rolls, campaigns adviser at the Changing Markets Foundation, said in a statement. “Greenwashing dupes customers into thinking they’re making sustainable choices when they’re not. Worse still, greenwashing can deceive us into thinking that progress is being made and prevents systemic action to alter the destructive trajectory of the fashion industry. Currently, the industry is critically unregulated, creating an open playing field for fashion brands to greenwash with few consequences.”

The Changing Markets Foundation estimates that nearly 60 percent of green assertions for clothing are misleading or unsubstantiated according to guidelines from the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority, which announced last month that it is conducting a review of claims by brands that certain items of clothing are sustainable, better for the environment or made from recycled or organic materials.

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The increased scrutiny comes at a time when more Britons are choosing eco-friendlier lifestyles. A Deloitte poll from last April, for instance, found that four in five (85 percent) U.K. consumers have adopted at least one lifestyle change to be more sustainable since the pandemic began, while one in three is actively seeking brands with strong sustainability (34 percent) and ethical (30 percent) bonafides.

Not everyone is taking brand declarations at face value, however. A recent survey by the Changing Markets Foundation and YouGov found that 62 percent of consumers across Germany, France, Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom either distrust or are uncertain about green claims made by fashion purveyors. Britons appear to be more resistant to spin, with 74 percent of U.K. respondents expressing skepticism about planet-pampering marketing.

“As Fashion Week draws to a close, we are reminded of the global negative impact the industry has both on our environment and the people working throughout the supply chain,” said climate campaigner Bel Jacobs, former style editor for Metro. “Without stronger regulation, this issue will just continue to worsen. Urgent change is crucially needed to halt the disastrous environmental and human effect of the industry.”

Greenwash.com takes to task products that are made with high percentages of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, yet claim to be better for the environment. Among the wash-outs is Boohoo’s new Ready for the Future collection, which Changing Markets Foundation says promotes the “false solution” of using recycled plastic bottles in clothing. A coat from Marks & Spencer, made in part from recycled PET, professes to be “kinder to the environment,” but “without disclosing the exact volume or providing any evidence for the green claim.” Another pair of “mono-material” pants from Asos that boasts “zero-waste design” and claims to be “easier to recycle” is revealed to be a blend of polyester and nylon that is “impossible to recycle.”

“It is clear that we have overshot the 1.5-degree pathway and we are now heading for well over 2 degrees,” said Safia Minney, former global CEO of People Tree and founder of a new grassroots movement known as Fashion Declares. London Fashion Week, she said, does “little” to address the “climate, ecological and social emergency we are facing.” Greenwashing from brands, too, hides the fact that production needs to be reduced by 75 percent or more.

“A radical shift will involve kicking out the fossil fuels that the industry is reliant on and transitioning to low-impact, regeneratively grown materials that promote carbon drawdown and low-carbon, high-social-impact handcrafted products,” Minney said. “Greenwashing is masking the truth and getting in the way of the systemic change needed for our future.”