The big global greenwashing crackdown #191


As sustainability claims become increasingly prominent, regulators are scrambling to tighten guidance and clamp down on breaches. What does this mean for fashion?

The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), a global network of consumer protection authorities from over 65 countries, works to coordinate cross-border enforcement of greenwashing guidance, whether through soft enforcement like voluntary compliance and warning letters, or formal investigations with court processes that can be considered criminal in some cases of intentionally reckless conduct. In its most recent sweep of global websites, the ICPEN found as many as 40 per cent of environmental claims could be misleading consumers. In the UK, the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) watchdog says more than half of consumers take these claims into account when making purchasing decisions.

For the fashion industry, investigations mean more scrutiny on complex global supply chains, and more pressure to be transparent about limitations as well as environmental progress. Greater customer emphasis on environmentalism has increased the use of misleading marketing, says Josephine Palumbo, sitting ICPEN president and deputy commissioner, deceptive marketing practices directorate at Competition Bureau Canada.

Action is underway: the UK’s CMA published draft guidance on misleading environmental claims last week, and will now consult businesses and consumers, hoping to understand how those claims are being made and understood. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) released five “rules of thumb” for environmental claims in January and began its investigation into the 170 largest local businesses, including 70 fashion brands, at the beginning of May. In the US, contemporary denim label Amendi and policy collective Politically in Fashion are leading an effort calling on the Federal Trade Commission to review its Green Guides, which outline rules against greenwashing and haven’t been updated since 2012.

Where fashion needs guidance

Competition and consumer agencies, which function as the industry’s greenwashing watchdogs, have two main objectives: to protect consumers from misleading environmental claims, and to promote fair competition among the businesses making environmental claims. Most guidance is simple and adaptive, stating that claims must be clear, specific and substantiated.

Los Angeles brand Reformation rose to popularity with the tagline, “Being naked is the number one most sustainable option. We’re number two.” Now, it’s joining the call for tighter guidance. “Regulations can help establish standards and definitions to ensure that brands are cutting through this noise and engaging with their customers in authentic, real ways,” says chief sustainability officer and VP of operations Kathleen Talbot.


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