Fashion brands “systematically” mislead the public about their ecological references

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Some of Europe’s biggest fashion brands are making unsubstantiated environmental claims “all style and no substance”, new report says

Most of the fast fashion brands are focusing their environmental efforts on making clothing from single-use plastic bottles instead of virgin polyester, but the researchers called it a “bogus solution.” Image: Pexe; s

The world’s biggest fast fashion brands are fooling customers with flimsy sustainability claims, while prioritizing fossil fuels and contributing to plastic pollution, new research finds.

Almost 60% of industry claims about planet-friendly products are unfounded or misleading, according to the report, with researchers accusing companies such as H&M and Asos of capitalizing on public concern for the environment – or “greenwashing” – like a marketing ploy.

“These are brands people trust,” George Harding-Rolls, campaign advisor for the Changing Markets Foundation, told The Big Issue. “They trust that when brands claim that something contributes to sustainability, it is in fact justified.

“But if you look at a lot of environmental brands in fashion, you just have to take them at face value. They don’t give you any information.

The survey examined a selection of 4,000 products from top brands such as Burberry, M&S and Zara to monitor how companies might “routinely fool” customers with “false green claims.”

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The brands claimed that customers could recycle clothing made from synthetic fibers despite “no such recycling technology” existing, products labeled as sustainable or responsible without supporting evidence, and were not transparent on the amount of an item made from recycled materials, research found.

Almost 40 percent of the articles carried an environmental marketing sentiment. But 59% of those claims flouted draft guidelines issued by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, designed to ensure product lifecycle labeling is truthful and transparent. A consultation on orientation will end next month.

“There’s an example from Asos where they say it’s a ‘modern material’ product, which means it’s easier to recycle and remake. But it’s made of 50% nylon and 50% polyester, which means it’s pretty hard to recycle, ”said Harding-Rolls.

Zara and Gucci have made the fewest “misleading” claims, according to the report. The worst culprit, the researchers said, was H&M, with nearly all of the brand’s sustainability claims (96%) found to be unfounded or misleading.

H&M’s Conscious collection, touted as a clothing line made from more sustainable materials such as organic cotton or recycled polyester, was found to contain a higher share of harmful synthetic materials than its main line (72 percent against 61 percent).

An Asos spokesperson said: The reality is that there is no quick fix to this challenge, and a massive switch from man-made to natural fibers can create other impacts – for example, water use or land degradation. – it is therefore important that we work together as an industry to achieve this.

“As a signatory of Textiles 2030, we are committed to collaborating with industry colleagues to find and develop system-wide solutions to create a more sustainable product mix and combat the use of virgin synthetic materials. ”

The Big Issue has also reached out to H&M for comment.

Synthetic fibers are made from fossil fuels, accounting for 1.35% of global oil consumption – more than Spain’s annual oil consumption – contributing to carbon emissions during the climate crisis. Fast fashion brands were found to use particularly high levels of synthetic fibers, which Boohoo overtook with 88% of the products.

Ppeople should be aware that they are potentially misledGeorge Harding-Rolls

As brands rush to capitalize on consumer concerns by using sustainability as a marketing ploy, the vast majority of these claims are all flirtatious and lacking in substance, ”said Urska Trunk, campaign manager at Changing Markets.

“As they launder their clothing collections, they drag their feet to adopt truly circular solutions. “

Most brands are focusing their environmental efforts on making clothing from single-use plastic bottles instead of virgin polyester, but researchers have called it a “bogus solution” and “a one-way street to landfill. or incineration “.

“About 85% of the brands that responded to us use recycled plastic bottles,” said Harding-Rolls. “At first it may seem like a good thing. Plastics are high on the agenda. And every little counts, right?

“But actually, there are big problems with that,” he explained. “Ideally, we would create a circular economy, and that involves recycling from product to product. Thus, a bottle becomes another bottle, the clothes are recycled into more clothes, keeping them in a loop.

“But the big beverage companies have major commitments to reduce their plastic packaging and they have recycling targets. And they do it quite effectively. But you take the bottles out of that system and turn them into recycled polyester for clothing, which really can’t be recycled into clothing after that because we don’t have the technology. This means that plastic that could have been used sustainably always ends up in a landfill or incinerator. “

The practice also adds to the global microplastics crisis and introduces an element of competition into plastic recycling, said Harding-Rolls, with the beverage industry and the fashion industry vying for the same bottle waste by plastic. “It is really the fashion industry that poaches from another industry rather than sorting its own waste,” he added.

Despite a high prevalence of green claims, none of the nearly fifty brands surveyed made a clear commitment to phase out the use of synthetic materials, the researchers said, leaving the industry “a long way to go. facing the climatic and plastic crises in a significant way ”.

Companies are also not investing in the future, the report warns, with too little money being spent on creating better recycling methods.

Inditex, the group to which Zara belongs, said it has invested three million euros in exploring new textile recycling solutions, the biggest commitment of all the brands reviewed. But that only represents 0.08% of the company’s net profits in 2019.

The solution means “pulling on several different leverage points,” said Harding-Rolls. “Consumers pay their money, it is important to give them the information so that they are aware of their choices and take a stand.

“But politics and legislation also play an important role,” he explained. “Authorities are looking to put in place new consumer protection laws that will make brands legally responsible for the types of claims they make. I imagine that would mean the number of environmental claims would drop dramatically, as they just can’t meet requirements without potentially having legal issues.

“But it will also mean that the claims made will be as watertight as possible. Then consumers can start to trust brands. Until then, people should be aware that they are potentially being misled. “


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