“We need to let designer-makers get sustainability wrong”

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The fear of being called out for “greenwashing” is paralysing designer-makers into doing nothing on the climate crisis. It’s time to let them make mistakes, writes Katie Treggiden.

“Carbon washing is the new greenwashing”; H&M called out for “greenwashing” in its Conscious fashion collection; “Greenwashing won’t wash”: all Dezeen headlines from the past few years. In fact, the last one was mine. And it’s important that we call out greenwashing – the practice of making false environmental claims in order to sell products, services or policies.

With 66 per cent of all shoppers – rising to 75 per cent among millennials – saying they consider sustainability when making a purchase, the reward is clear. But making products and services truly environmentally responsible takes time, money, and effort, and the road to get there is full of nuance, compromises and trade-offs – none of which makes for easy profits or simple advertising slogans, so companies lie, exaggerate and bend the truth to scoop those sales.

It’s important that we call out greenwashing

Advertising and sales are hardly known for being bastions of honesty, but greenwashing’s harm goes beyond simply misleading consumers into buying something they didn’t want. All the time, money, and effort invested into these practices is not being spent on actually becoming more sustainable, and companies are let off the hook. Meanwhile, the misled customers are not investing their money in the companies that are sincerely trying to do things better.

“Greenwashing perpetuates the status quo because it leads specifiers, end users, everyone in the chain to believe that they are doing better than they actually are from a sustainability point of view,” said founder of content marketing agency Hattrick, Malin Cunningham. “Equally, the businesses doing the greenwashing have no incentive to improve.”

“Declaring a climate emergency is just the beginning of the journey”

However, all these “greenwashing” headlines…

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About the Author: V. Moss