Why Greenwashing is Killing My Business...

Why Greenwashing is Killing My Business...

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  

It’s a quote you’ve most likely come across before, attributed to US poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou.

For most of our lives, many of us have been coasting along oblivious to the damage being caused to the planet and those on it.

But following years of concerning reports from academics and research groups, along with a damning report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2021, we can now remain in no doubt that humans are causing devastating climate change.

Time for us to do better, right?

Wrong. Time for multinational corporations to hoodwink us with their inadequate and piecemeal steps towards sustainability.

And it comes as no surprise that one of the worst-offending industries is fashion.

Greenwashing in Fashion

A study by the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) last month found that fashion was one of the three worst-performing industries when it came to forming credible climate action plans.

The study assessed over 18,600 companies and found just 0.4 per cent had disclosed "credible climate transition plans" - with that figure even lower for the 457 clothing and apparel firms assessed.

Meanwhile, greenwashing - the practice of a company or individual making misleading or false environmental claims - has become ever more sophisticated.

What is Greenwashing?

Planet Tracker, a financial think tank, recently released a report where it had now identified SIX different types of greenwashing: 

6 Different Types of Greenwashing

The six types of greenwashing

Greencrowding - hiding in a crowd to avoid discovery.

Greenlighting - emphasising positives to hide negative, environmentally damaging activities elsewhere.

Greenshifting - shifting the blame onto the consumer.

Greenlabelling - the practice of marketing something as green or sustainable, when closer examination reveals this to be misleading.

Greenrinsing - regularly changing sustainability targets before they are scheduled to be achieved.

Greenhushing - underreporting or hiding a company's data to avoid scrutiny of green credentials.

Greenwashing in the media

I might throw in a seventh for good measure: greenpressing - the practice of the media reporting and celebrating any small environmental initiative by large companies as if it were going to save the world, when in reality it might make up a fraction of the business’s output.

Last year, Zara was lauded for releasing a collection made from captured carbon emissions, with headlines from the likes of Bloomberg saying it was “a move away from fast fashion”. 


Bloomberg headlines


Fact check: it was a ‘limited-edition capsule collection’; the items were made of only 20% recycled materials; and the technology is currently not scalable. This from a company that releases 24 collections and produces around 840 million garments each year. And in a period which saw the owner of Zara, Inditex, report a 19% increase on its net profits year on year. 

This lack of media scrutiny into environmental practices is helping facilitate greenwashing on a mass scale.

Buzzwords like regenerative, recycled, circular, resale are blinding journalists and consumers alike when the biggest problem is the business model itself.

When the strategy of the business is to mass produce more and more garments, flooding the market and promoting excessive consumption, then any nod to sustainability is just that. A nod. Or perhaps even less than that - a derisory wink.

Why Greenwashing is Bad for (Small) Businesses

As the founder of a small sustainable brand that was built with passion for ethical and environmental practices, it’s absolutely heart-breaking to see both my own business and others around me foundering in the current economic conditions at the expense of such brands.

My sustainable children’s clothing business, My Little Green Wardrobe, is struggling to survive - and other businesses in my sector have lost the fight entirely in recent months in part due to a lack of consumer spending power.

Kite Clothing organic cotton baby romper with bunny

Consumer confidence is down, the country has been in recession and many have been cautious with spending - understandably preferring to keep their heating and lights on. Only for their fossil-fuel based energy providers to post record profits, capitalising on war and misery on so many levels. But that’s a matter for a whole different post.

When consumers do shop for products, research consistently suggests shoppers rank sustainability issues as the most important factor. A report by New York University’s Centre for Sustainable Business suggests more than three-quarters (77%) of us believe sustainability is important when it comes to making a purchasing decision.

In short: Sustainability sells.

But how would shoppers actually know when they are making a sustainable purchase - when huge multinationals are issuing self-congratulatory press releases and revelling in the PR glory of their latest innovative eco tweak, while making misleading claims about their ‘eco’ collections?

The problem is it’s not a level playing field - and never was. 

Why is Greenwashing Bad for Consumers?

Having struggled to shop more sustainably for my own two girls, I naively thought if I built an excellent website and curated a selection of genuinely awesome ethical kids' brands - even creating a rating system on how each brand is acting more sustainably - that I could potentially expect at least a little slice of the market. 

A build-it-and-they-will-come kind of mentality, I suppose.

Brands I stock are among the most well-established ethical children’s brands in the world - including Danish eco brand Müsli by Green Cotton - whose parent company by Green Cotton was behind the world’s first ever organic t-shirt made in 1991.

Little girl wearing Musli by Green Cotton organic cotton girls dress in yellow

Müsli by Green Cotton, pictured above, comes from the same brand that pioneered the world's first organic cotton t-shirt.

Or bright and colourful kids' brand, Frugi, which has paved the way for more eco conscious parents for the past 20 years by creating ethically-made children’s clothing that accommodates cloth nappies.

Or take Roc + Rudi - an independent childrenswear brand manufactured in small production runs in the UK.

And yet it’s not enough to have a good concept, great products and responsible business practices.

The giants of industry are edging smaller ethical businesses out of the market.

I simply don’t have the deep pockets and marketing budgets to fund countless adverts, influencers, press launches, remarketing campaigns or bombard you on social media, stalking you around the internet.

Let alone get similar levels of press coverage for our latest sustainable innovations. 

In such circumstances, it’s virtually impossible for ethical businesses like mine to cut through.

Research by the University of Aberdeen earlier this year found that many large fashion brands, including H&M, Next, Primark and Zara are paying Bangladeshi manufacturers below the cost of production. 

Of the brands listed in the report, incredibly 12 of them are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative. Need I say more?

In a super price-sensitive market, my business simply cannot compete with these fashion giants because the brands I work with use more expensive sustainably-sourced materials and actually pay a fair wage.

They adhere to the highest environmental and social criteria, and are audited regularly to ensure this remains the case.

Why You Should be Angry About Greenwashing

High street fast fashion brands store fronts

And do you want to know what the absolute worst part of it is? These huge greenwashing machines are denying shoppers who want to make a sustainable choice from doing so.

Those would-be-conscious consumers probably felt good about their purchase because they thought they were supporting improved environmental and social practices - when actually they have done nothing of the sort. 

And what’s more they may have supported brands and bought products that were potentially more damaging than the current norm.

A Changing Markets Foundation report in 2021 found that H&M’s conscious collection was, by some yardsticks, more damaging than their normal one - with 72% containing synthetic materials compared to 65% in their standard line.

These shoppers have unintentionally supported an unethical, unsustainable supply chain which profiteers on the exploitation of the planet and the workers.

Why Small Businesses Matter

In such circumstances, it’s easy to lose hope that brands like mine can survive, much less thrive, against such odds - and for many of us things really are on a knife edge.

Small businesses, struggling with the cumulative effects of the pandemic, on-going strikes and the cost of living crisis, have had to close down in unprecedented numbers.

And new research suggests more than half of the UK’s surviving small businesses are at risk of closure this year.

This is incredibly important because SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy, employing almost two-thirds (61%) of the workforce.

What Can We Do About Greenwashing?

Greenwashing - and its many derivatives - is a serious issue.

Read my article here for steps each of us can take to try to avoid falling victim to greenwash. My key tip is to look for credible third-party certifications like GOTS.

Here at My Little Green Wardrobe, we only stock brands that are behaving in a more ethical way than is the current norm.

We thoroughly vet and research brands before considering them for our site and then award each product its own set of values according to the ethical criteria it meets.

My Little Green Wardrobe's Shop Your Values icons

At My Little Green Wardrobe you can shop according to your own ethical values, above.

And crucially, we communicate to you exactly how each brand is behaving in a more sustainable manner, so you can be sure you are spending your money with brands that align with your own ethos.

Greenwashing and the EU Green Deal 

Fortunately, there is tighter regulation coming down the road with France the first country to insist on product labels that provide detailed environmental information at the point of purchase.  

This comes ahead of the EU’s proposed laws on Digital Product Passports due to come into force by 2025, which should also see greater traceability and transparency for consumers. 

The European Green Deal is taking measures where the British government is not, and my sincere hope is that British policymakers wake up and smell the greenwash. 

I welcome steps towards greater transparency in this exploitative industry but until we start seeing meaningful change from the market leaders how many truly sustainable manufacturers and retailers will survive?  

That I can’t say… but I’ll be over here hanging on by my fingernails, still trying to “do better”.

With love,


Lucy Todd Author: Lucy Todd
Lucy Todd is the founder of My Little Green Wardrobe. She started her own ethical clothing journey after spending countless hours trying to find suitable clothes for her own children. Her expertise are in the manufacturing and distribution of clothing, with a particular focus on sustainability, ethical working practices, harmful chemicals, and the environmental impact of the apparel industry.
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