By Akeem Bundu-Kamara, Founder at Lockr Space
With the climate crisis gaining more media attention, rightly so, we’ve seen more press, research, campaigns and businesses doing their part to protect the planet. With the rise in conscious shopping, sustainability is now becoming crucial in many businesses across the industry as they try to appeal to this audience. However, just a few weeks ago Primark came under fire after marketing their new fashion range as ethical and sustainable, while being known as one of the largest fast fashion retailers in the country. Though, this isn’t first time where a fashion brand has been called out for discussing sustainability or pushing a sustainable line.
A growing number of consumers and sustainability influencers have been highlighting this issue of “greenwashing”, which is the practice of making misleading or unsubstantiated claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company, which makes it difficult for shoppers to know which brands are being authentic to the cause. Often, businesses and brands are unable to completely overhaul processes in effort to become more eco-friendly, so there’s a risk of jumping on a hype or just catering to an audience without doing the work. However, being sustainable is a journey that doesn’t happen overnight. So, how can brands avoid greenwashing while undergoing their sustainable journey?
One of the reasons brands are under scrutiny, is due to the ambiguity that comes with sustainability. There’s no universal definition that’s mandatory for the fashion and sportswear industry to comply to. Therefore, regulations are murky, which leaves room for careful word play and marketing campaigns to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.
Many fashion heads or business owners (like myself) may feel that they’re still making a difference in incremental steps that they wish to increase over time. This needs to be discussed openly so consumers understand the steps being taken. By being transparent about the good, the bad and the ugly, is honest, authentic and creates accountability. Also, brands and businesses regularly checking in with their customers to get their thoughts and opinions on what can be improved is a thoughtful way to take them on the journey too. For example, Travelodge is developing its sustainability policy and have asked customers in its Sustainability Survey to share their thoughts on how the hotel chain can do to be more sustainable.
Another impactful way of doing this is to focus on innovations that can help. Not every company is able to be the most sustainable off the bat, but by investing in manufacturing of more sustainable materials plays a significant role. There are brands at the forefront of the innovation of the sustainable industry through next generation materials, practices, and approaches for other brands to learn from and adopt. Recently, big players such as Adidas released their iconic Stan Smith sneakers made from Mylo which is crafted from the root structure of mushrooms.
Also, there are fantastic organisations working on improving the transparency gap with qualifications and reporting. Reporting standards for sustainability exist and are currently voluntary so sharing yearly reports publicly or a traffic light system publicly, will keep consumers informed and hopefully brands and businesses on the right path.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all in this journey, but through making more changes, frequently across an organisation is the right step. But, the key point is here is that information is power and by being transparent with shoppers allows them to join your journey and avoid falling victim to greenwashing. Although sustainability may not be as transparent as it could be, things are changing and we are seeing significant changes through driving more accountability and pressures from consumers who are becoming more aware, which is ultimately the step in the right direction.
About the Author
Akeem launched Lockr Space in January 2021 as the UK’s answer to sustainable, functional, premium sportswear. There are organisations and marketplaces out there, but they’re not visible enough. Lockr Space was created to fill that gap, and provide a space where people can easily compare and find good quality products, which are sustainable and functional to increase performance and to ensure people feel good in them.