Is it ‘green’ or greenwashing?

Fashionable women and men sitting on wooden chairs in a lush, healthy field. The people are dressed in sustainable neutrals. In this article, Ocean Generation and Lydia Dupree breakdown what greenwashing is and how to spot it.

How to tell the difference between sustainable fashion and false claims like greenwashing 

The fashion industry is swept up in buzzwords — especially when marketing sustainable fashion. “Eco-friendly”, “natural”, “green”—the list goes on. But what do they mean? Do they have substance, at all? 

Most of them are fluff, jargon to make a brand sound environmentally conscious without any true scientific backing as to their impact on our blue planet. Sustainability is easy to market, but hard to prove.  

Saying that, we can welcome our next buzzy term into the mix —greenwashing.

What is greenwashing?

No, greenwashing is not an expensive non-toxic clothing detergent or the latest dry cleaning method. 

Greenwashing is “the act or practice of making a product, policy, activity, etc. appear to be more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is”.  

Definition of greenwashing by Lydia Dupree and Ocean Generation. Greenwashing =
making a product, 
policy, activity, etc. 
appear to be more environmentally friendly
than it really is.

What is greenwashing in fashion?

Greenwashing in fashion can range from a fast fashion brand debuting a “sustainable” collection that lacks evidence supporting how it is environmentally conscious, to sprinkling eco-friendly terms into marketing without defining what they mean.  

In short, greenwashing is the use of false claims to hop on to the sustainability trend without evidence (if only Legally Blonde had come out now, Elle would be all over this one!). 

Greenwashing instructions including exaggerating positive contributions to ethical and sustainable fashion and distracting from the ongoing mass of fast fashion garment production. Shared by Ocean Generation and Lydia Dupree. Via Project Stopshop

How can you tell the difference between sustainable fashion and false claims? 

5 ways to identify greenwashing in fashion. 

If you see these red flags, run!

  1. The use of sustainability jargon, such as “green”, “eco-friendly”, “sustainable”, and “natural” in marketing without a definition explaining what the brand means when using the term.

  2. A fast fashion company that comes out with new items often (think: daily, weekly, monthly, even large numbers released seasonally) markets their new line as “sustainable”.

    Releasing large volumes of clothing indicates that the company as a whole is not following an earth-conscious business model and thereby cannot justify one of their lines truly being sustainable. 

  3. Claiming fabrics to be “organic” or “non-toxic” without certifications to support (see below for more information on certifications to look for).

  4. The lack of scientific reports exploring their sustainability impact . If a brand has the data to prove how they are sustainable, they will show it.

  5. Using the term “vegan” to make clothing sound like a healthier, cruelty-free alternative , when the fabric is derived from petrochemicals (meaning, they are fossil-fuel derived plastics).  

    However, some “vegan” fabrics are plant-based materials, which would be a sustainable alternative.  

    Watch: Lydia’s short video about how to avoid plastics in clothing. 
Women wearing three pairs of sunglasses on her head: One pink, blue and yellow. A tranisiton to slow fashion is needed to safegaurd our planet. This article explores greenwashing red flags.

5 signs of sustainable fashion

Look for these green flags!

  1. Look for transparency in fashion.

    The brand has sustainability reports backed up by data readily available.

    Sustainability reports can include their efforts towards lowering carbon footprint, reducing water usage and overall waste, treating and paying garment workers fairly, and outlining future sustainability goals.

  2. How traceable is your clothing?

    Clothing is fully traceable back to the source, such as the farm that grew the cotton or the alpaca whose wool you are wearing.

  3. Is your sustainable clothing certified by credible sources?

    Fabrics and processes can be certified by credible sources, such as: 

    ➡️ What does a GOTS certification mean?
    Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) ensures no pesticides or insecticides are used in farming and all chemistry used by the brand in the production of clothing is in alignment with being truly organic.

    GOTS-certified facilities also adhere to social criteria based on leading social sustainability standards.  

    ➡️ What is OEKO TEX in the fashion world?
    OEKO-TEX® is all about chemical safety. They have a variety of certifications, but the most popular one is the STANDARD 100 which ensures that the final product was tested to confirm that it is free from over 3,000 different toxic chemicals. 

    ➡️ What does bluesign credibility mean?
    bluesign® approved facilities look at the overall chemistry used by a brand from fiber to finished product to ensure safe chemistry practices are used. 

    ➡️ What is Fairtrade?
    Fairtrade International and Fair Trade USA follow criteria that support ethical working environments for farmers and garment workers, eco-friendly practices and prioritise fair pay. 

  4. Are the clothes you’re wearing part of circular fashion?

    “Circular” fashion stops the linear “take-make-waste” model of fast fashion and instead closes the loop on production, including responsible manufacturing, use, and recycling for every garment.

    Look for brands that have take-back programs to recycle and reuse garments when they are at the end of life.

  5. Is the clothing you’re wearing from small batch production?

    A brand launches only a few items at a time in a limited supply to combat waste from the fashion industry, such as increasing landfills. 
A sustainably made scarf rustles in the wind. It's being held up, by a set of hands. In the background is a blue sky. Shared by Ocean Generation: Experts in Ocean Health.

Now in the know.

Although greenwashing is an indicator that the industry is slowly becoming more conscious of their impact on the environment.

But the only way to truly make a positive difference is to be honest and straightforward in their environmental efforts.  

Every decision we make – from what we wear to what we eat and how we move – has an impact on the future health of our Ocean and planet.  

With these tips to spot greenwashing, you’re now equipped to decipher the sustainability cons from the true conservationists. Go forth with your newfound skill and tell a friend.  

Greenwashing is an indicator that the industry is becoming more conscious of their environmental impact. But to truly make a positive difference they must be honest about their environmental efforts. In this article by Lydia Dupree, Ocean Generation is unpacking what greenwashing is and what red flags to look out for.

Connect with Lydia via her website or Instagram page.

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The impact of fashion on people and planet: What we purchase

What's the impact of fast fashion on the environment? Ocean Generation is diving into fast fashion, textile production, where clothing actually goes when we recycle it and how we can all be sustainable fashion lovers. Image is of three ethnically diverse and fashionable women, looking off into the distance. They're each wearing a power suit.

What you need to know about the environmental impact of the textiles in fashion.

Textiles – including clothing and footwear – are an everyday essential across the world. Our clothes can not only keep us warm in the cold, dry in the rain, and protect us from the sun, but they can also be an invaluable way to express ourselves through fashion. 

Despite their prevalence in our lives, it can be easy to overlook where our textiles come from, and the impact that fashion items have on both people and the planet.  

In this article Ocean Generation is sharing the impact of fashion on the environment. In this image a woman in a bright, flowing yellow dress is at a skatepark. You cannot see her face but you can see her black sneaker resting on the skateboard.

Let’s look deeper into the textile industry by discussing the following key areas:  

  • Overconsumption 
  • Environmental Impacts of Textiles 
  • Societal Impacts of Textiles 

What are the origins of the textiles that we know and love? 

It is important to consider the behind-the-scenes processes involved in textile production and distribution. These are illustrated below. 

Infographic describing the behind-the-scenes processes in textile production: fron fibre production, spinning, knitting to wet processes, assembly and distribution. This article looks at the impact of fashion and textiles on the planet.

What’s the impact of overconsumption in fashion? 

With the rise of fast fashion and increasing connectivity in this digital world, getting swept up in fashion trends has never been easier.  

But let’s slow down for a minute to think about our changing consumption habits. Between 2000 and 2015, clothing production doubled from ~50 billion units to over 100 billion units. This trend is driven by an increasing middle-class population globally and rising per capita sales in mature economies.  

Why are sales rising? Fast fashion is the prime culprit here.  

The fast fashion phenomenon began in the 1990s, with low-priced and short-lived items being generated by cheap manufacturing. Today, influencers on various digital platforms often promote rapidly changing trends, driving frequent consumption.  

On top of this, we wear clothes significantly less during their lifespans. This is not without considerable economic loss, with US$ 460 billion of value lost globally each year from people throwing away clothes they could still wear.  

Hands working with a sewing machine. A piece of navy fabric is being transformed into a piece of sustainable fashion. Shared by Ocean Generation - experts in Ocean health since 2009.

How do textiles and the fashion industry impact the environment?  

It isn’t just the economic loss that is a problem, however, as textile production, use, and disposal have significant environmental impacts which we’ll explore next.  

In 2018, the fashion industry produced ~2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. This weight is equivalent to that of 350 million adult male African Savanna elephants. GHG emissions are important to consider as they contribute to climate change.  

The textile value chain (the whole product lifecycle) is notoriously water intensive, consuming 215 trillion litres of water annually. This is equivalent to 86 million Olympic-size swimming pools.  

The fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tonnes of GHG in 2018; equivalent to the weight of 350 million adult male African elephants.

Overexploitation of our finite water sources can lead to major environmental disasters. An example of this is the Aral Sea Crisis, where water extraction for cotton irrigation desiccated what used to be the fourth largest lake in the world. 

Chemical contamination of textile wastewater is an environmental concern. The textile industry uses over 15,000 chemicals, many of which are harmful to the planet. Toxic substances such as reactive dyes and heavy metals often pollute local aquatic ecosystems.  

Did you know that washing textiles releases microfibres into the environment?   

All textiles are culprits, whether natural (such as cotton), semi-synthetic (including viscose) or synthetic (for example polyester).  

It was found that an average 6kg wash load of synthetic acrylic fabric releases over 700,000 fibres. These microfibres have been found in a range of environments, from the deep sea to Mount Everest, and can be ingested by aquatic organisms including sea cucumbers and hermit crabs.  

So far, we have investigated the impact of textile production and use on the environment.

What is the fate of discarded textiles?

In 2015, just 13% of total material input was recycled following clothing use. Most post-consumer waste is instead incinerated, landfilled, or exported to developing countries to be sold in second-hand markets.

Infographic from Ocean Generation sharing the fate of discarded clothing. Only 13% of clothing is actually recycled - the majority is exported to developing countries, incinerated or landfilled.

This is not to mention the pre-consumer waste comprised of new, unworn, or returned clothes that fail to be worn by consumers. The result? The accumulation of enormous quantities of textile waste.  

What are the societal impacts of textiles?  

While textiles are undeniably harmful to the planet, their production, use and disposal can have negative impacts on people too.  

The untreated textile wastewater that pollutes aquatic ecosystems also harms the communities using contaminated water systems for fishing, washing, and drinking.  

Breaking news: Plastic has been found in our lungs, blood, and even breast milk. Ocean Generation - experts in plastic pollution - share facts about plastic and the harms of plastic on human health.

Microfibres released into our waterways infiltrate human diets via tap water, beer, sea salt, and seafood, and have even been detected in human lungs.  

Textile waste exported to developing countries is sorted for sale in second-hand markets by low paid workers in unsafe conditions.  

The impacts of the textile industry are unevenly distributed, with the brunt being taken by developing countries where textile and garment manufacturing occurs. This is despite consumption primarily occurring in developed countries.  

Sounding familiar? The fate of textile waste mirrors that of both plastic and electronic waste.  

Global clothing production doubled from 50 billion units to over 100 billion units between 2000 and 2015. Fast fashion facts shared by Ocean Generation.

So, what is being done to repair the environmental impacts of the textile industry?  

There has been progress at reducing the environmental impact of the textile industry at various stages, from treating textile wastewater using plants to the degradation of textile waste by enzymes produced by bacteria and fungi.  

While these innovations are exciting, further development is needed before wider use.   

In the meantime, increasing awareness of the negative environmental and societal impacts of the textile industry has resulted in rising interest of new business models. Reselling, renting, repairing, and remaking increase product lifetimes, and this is a vital step in the move towards ‘slow’ fashion.

What is my role in the future of sustainable fashion – specifically, textiles?

You, as a textiles consumer, can drive change.

Here’s what action you can take:

  • Try to rethink your relationship with clothes. Some helpful tips on how to become a slower, more mindful consumer can be found here: How to take the fast out of fast fashion
  • Have a think about whether you need and will value that garment before making a purchase.  
  • Browse a second-hand shop before buying new.
  • Refuse to purchase unnecessary or low-quality, less durable clothes where possible.  
  • Think before putting your clothes in the wash. If possible, air out clothes or hand wash to remove specific stains. Try to avoid tumble drying too.  
  • Look into washing machine filters or washing bags designed to catch microfibres. 
  • Explore renting, leasing, updating, repairing, or reselling textiles to extend their lifespan. 
  • Try your hand at simple textile repairs, such as sewing buttons or patching up a hole, either by teaching yourself or attending a local repair workshop. 
  • If your garment is truly at the end of its lifespan, recycle it at a designated recycling point. 

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How to take the fast out of fast fashion

Fast fashion: The pursuit of more

The fashion industry pushes the idea that more is better — more trends, more products, more shopping; but who benefits from this? Certainly not consumers who feel the pressure to constantly stay on trend, or the environment struggling to keep up with the growing landfills and increased plastic count in our Ocean.

So, how do we break free from this craze? We slow down. 

A mindful approach to fashion

What is “slow fashion”?

Slow fashion is a mindful look at clothing from environmental factors to health implications and ethical working conditions for those that make the clothing. It is bringing fashion in harmony with our world.

Five simple ways to transition from fast fashion to a slow fashion wardrobe

1. Check the labels

Credit: Clothing label by Lydia Dupree.

Opt for natural, plant-based fibers

When selecting new pieces of clothing, look for products made out of fibers such as cotton or linen .

Many times, brands will claim their items are natural, but in fact are mostly synthetic with only a small percentage of natural fibers.

The tag on the inside of the item is the place to go to confirm what the fabric is made of — think of it as the garment’s ingredient label. Choose pieces that are a majority natural — the closer to 100% the better!

Which fabrics should we be wearing? Here’s a list.

2. Support certified brands

In addition to fabric type, look for GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), OEKOTEX®, and bluesign® certifications to be sure that the all-natural clothing is truly organic and not processed with toxic chemicals and dyes. 

How to choose clothing created in ethical working environments:

Beyond fabric composition, there are certifications indicative of a sustainable brand. 

Fairtrade certified brands follow criteria that create ethical working environments for farmers and garment workers, support eco-friendly practices and prioritise fair pay.

B Corporations adhere to levels of transparency, ensure ethical employee treatment and charitable giving, and demonstrate positive environmental impacts. Look for these when shopping to support brands that support their workers and the environment. 

3. Build a capsule wardrobe

Clothing line with sustainable fashion and capsule wardrobe pieces
Credit: Photo by piotr szulawski on Unsplash

Building a sustainable wardrobe starts with investing in quality pieces for everyday wear based on your style, known as a capsule wardrobe.

Think of the 3–5 items that you wear most often and feel the best in. Then, invest in all-natural items that will complement the staples you already own.

The goal is to have a closet that can be paired countless ways without having to own a lot of clothing. 

4. Buy less, wear more

This brings us to the mantra, buy less, wear more. When you need to shop for something new, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Will this pair well with what I already own?
  2. Will I wear this for more than just one occasion? 

Sometimes an outfit is specific to an event, such as a party, graduation, or a wedding. But, if more often than not you are making the most of your wardrobe, then you are participating in this more mindful approach to fashion.

Be a proud outfit repeater, Lizzie McGuire!

5. Re-love clothing

Woman in a second-hand clothing store looking at sustainable fashion pieces.
Credit: Photo by Cam Morin on Unsplash

When you feel that an item no longer fits in your wardrobe but is still in good shape, donating to a shelter is a great option.

Many brands offer buy-back programs where you can send back your pre-loved item from their brand, and they will recycle it properly for you.

Try thrifting or renting wardrobe items

Thrifting and renting clothing have become popular options, thrifting for its lower cost point and unique finds, and renting for when you need an outfit for a specific occasion.

Do your friends also have clothes they are bored with? Hold a clothes swap where you each bring a few pieces and trade off. 

There are endless ways to extend the lifetime of clothing and bring mindfulness into fashion – which all contribute to better caring for our Ocean and planet. Have fun with it!

Connect with Lydia via her website or Instagram page.

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