Greenwashing, bluewashing, sportswashing, pinkwashing, woke washing, and rainbow washing are the most discussed types of "washing" online. This growing awareness is radically changing the relationship between brands and communities, especially during Earth Day (this year on Saturday, April 22nd). Greenwashing, coined by American environmentalist Jay Westerveld, refers to organizations or brands that falsely promote their environmental and ethical values.
A chart that tracks the mentions of "greenwashing" within the early adopters community of Nextatlas over the past three years and identifies a progressive growth that projects until 2024.
Earth Day Exploitation
Staring from 2019, Nextatlas has noticed a steady increase in the number of posts published for #EarthDay in general. However, there has been an increase in marketing posts by brands that have started using the day to promote discounts and offers, turning the day from an event of environmental consciousness into an excuse for greenwashing.
The graph represents the trend of Earth Day mentions, comparing year by year (from 2019 to 2022), the number of posts published by users compared to those of brands.
In the fashion industry, Earth Day is the time when launches of collections labeled as "recycled and organic materials" by small and large clothing brands generate more attention. It has been shown in the last three years to be the perfect opportunity to activate or showcase collaborations between brands and influencers of various backgrounds and we have seen this in past Earth Day celebrations. Fast-fashion giant H&M used Earth Day 2021 to launch The Loop Machine, its fabric recycling machine. Game Of Throne’s star Maisie Williams was announced as the brand’s sustainability ambassador alongside the launch of H&M Loop Island in Nintendo’s game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. However, the elaborate digital campaign was criticized as a sales tactic to target younger consumers who are increasingly concerned about the future of our climate.
Using Green Living Trends For #EarthDay Marketing
Despite the significant increase in the public consciousness about these marketing tactics, some brands still rely on popular trends or concepts associated with Earth Day as a sustainability shortcut, such as buying second-hand, sartorial repairs, and upcycling. Spanish fast-fashion retailer Zara announced last October a repair service in the UK that will allow consumers to send in any Zara piece from any season to be mended. They also launched a peer-to-peer style marketplace to resell pre-owned Zara garments, with ultra-fast fashion brand SHEIN following suit by testing a marketplace “SHEIN Exchange” in Brazil and Mexico that they hope to bring to the US in 2023.
The main terms and concepts associated with conversations that mention “Earth Day”
To mark Earth Day 2023, SHEIN is collaborating with a Toronto-based clothing charity to host a clothing donation drive but the brand has been accused of greenwashing due to its unsustainable fast fashion model. SHEIN has been advised against by ethical rating platforms such as Good on You for their poor worker treatment and received a 0/20 rating in The Fashion Revolution’s annual Fashion Transparency Index, indicating a lack of public disclosure of practices. The exchange of reusable SHEIN products for clothing donations at this event can be criticized for not promoting true sustainability or ethical consumption but rather the brand itself.
Terms of interest related to Earth Day mentions in the Nextatlas community, highlighting what consumers are focusing on.
Reshaping of Consumer Expectations
This is part of a growing trend that indicates how consumers are becoming more aware of greenwashing and demanding truly eco-friendly options. They are growing wary of empty promises of sustainability and greenwashing is increasingly becoming a part of their vocabulary and decision-making concerns. In recent years, the focus was on the fashion industry, and there was much skepticism about whether brands' promises were genuine or simply an attempt to capitalize on the occasion. Last month, the European Commission released draft regulations to prevent greenwashing by fashion brands. Brands must provide credible evidence to support their eco-marketing or face fines of at least 4% of annual revenue. Popular fashion brands ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda, were all under investigation in January this year by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority for marketing supposedly eco-friendly products that were “too broad and vague” in description. It is clear that consumer pressure is propelling a broader awareness of cynical marketing ploys by the fashion industry.
The Transparent Future: Affordable, Inclusive, and Durable
It is, therefore, no surprise that there is a shift towards a new type of fashion, where consumers opt for sustainable options at more accessible prices that imitate high-end brands. Until recently, eco-fashion tended to apply only to high-priced clothing, whereas today you can find eco-items in all price ranges. No longer a matter of exclusivity, ethical fashion is getting more and more inclusive, as brands and designers spread ethical fashion extensively to positively affect the industry and society. For eco-fashion to be strategic, it must be affordable, have transparency of production, and ensure durability, both aesthetic and functional. This trend will likely lead to an increase in the availability of eco-friendly fashion options at more accessible prices, making it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. This year, the expectation of transparency has reached new heights and is expected to continue to grow until 2024.
Graph tracking mentions related to the demand for transparency in communication within the Nextatlas early adopter community over the past three years, highlighting the expected growth in the next 12 months.
A brand famous for transparency is Patagonia, known worldwide for their functional and sustainable eco-apparel that is backed by transparency in their production process, labour practices and genuine climate activism. Now in its 50th year of business in 2023, Patagonia has three activist segments to support environmental causes. The company already donates 1% of its revenue to grassroots environmental groups, and created the Holdfast Collective last year, to which founder Yvon Chouinard gave away all of the company stocks to provide larger grants and donations. The Home Planet Fund, launching this month for Earth Day, will focus on fundraising for Indigenous communities fighting climate change in isolated regions. A brand like Patagonia understands that transparency builds trust with consumers and contributes to a more sustainable fashion industry. Both brands and consumers must work together towards a viable future for our planet, and Earth Day is a timely reminder of this responsibility.
Trend lines, data, and information described in this article emerge from the ongoing analysis performed by Nextatlas on its global observation pool made of innovators, early adopters, industry insiders expressing their views on Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit.
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