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Greenwashing vs the new conscious customer

The well-known consultancy McKinsey recently published the State of Fashion 2023. Again, a crucial topic was back in the conversation: the issue of greenwashing, in trend n.7 of the analysis.

Young people around the world taking to the streets to demand urgent action to avert disastrous climate change

Young people around the world taking to the streets to demand urgent action to avert disastrous climate change

The retail industry’s biggest concern right now is how and when these sustainability claims may be regulated and what needs to be done to ensure honest and transparent communication with customers.

Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials into the environment. Many places are running out of space for landfills

Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials into the environment. Many places are running out of space for landfills

Tackling greenwashing is a top priority in the forthcoming fashion environment, as discussed by McKinsey senior partners Anita Balchandani and Achim Berg.

 

But what is greenwashing, exactly?

As a common stereotype, the first concept associated with greenwashing is misleading communication, which turns out to be a terrible marketing strategy. It deceives the public into believing that a company is practising sustainable and responsible business.

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues

Greenwashing mainly relies on businesses persuading customers that their goods are environmentally friendly.

 

Eco Age Chairman Nicola Giuggioli on decoupling greenwashing vs. attention deflection greenwashing

Discussing this problem in one of my business classes with the Chairman of Eco Age ltd, Nicola Giuggioli, we understood how there are two types of greenwashing: decoupling and attention deflection. 

Nicola Giuggioli, Chairman of Eco Age ltd, a full-service agency specialising in sustainable business strategy

Nicola Giuggioli, Chairman of Eco Age ltd, a full-service agency specialising in sustainable business strategy

Eco Age is a full-service agency specialising in sustainable business strategy founded by Nicola Giuggioli's sister Livia Firth. Firth is also the creative director of this unique integrated strategy consultancy working at the cutting edge of sustainability. With their team, Giuggioli and Firth help brands reduce their impact on people and the environment by communicating their journey transparently and responsibly for a green business. 

Decoupling greenwashing occurs when a business aims to satisfy the expectations of stakeholders but limits real and effective improvements in organisational processes. On the other hand, attention deflection happens when companies use peripheral and symbolic activities to divert stakeholders’ attention from unsustainable behaviours.

Over the past few years, many fashion brands have been accused of presenting false information about their responsible commitment.

 

New consumers expect brands to be honest, collaborative and transparent

Since The State of Fashion 2021, as discussed in the new report by McKinsey, now in 2023, the focus has been to develop a more transparent form of communication and dialogue with consumers so that businesses are responsible and honest. Customers actively look for authentic and ethical fashion labels that align with their ideals.

Young activists staging a coordinated global climate strike

Young activists staging a coordinated global climate strike

“Brands are expected to be honest, collaborative, and transparent” – Nicola Giuggioli, Chairman of Eco Age

Communication strategies and approaches have evolved dramatically over the last decade because of the diverse motives and expectations of target consumers for fashion businesses of all sizes. 

Nicola Giuggioli spoke about how “customers today have greater access to information than ever before, thanks partly to digital accelerators such as the internet and social media. In particular, in the post-covid scenario, more and more consumers are shifting to a more responsible approach to their shopping behaviours.”

It is projected that the global production of thermoplastics will amount to 445.25 million metric tons in 2025. Annual production volumes are expected to continue rising in the following decades, rising to approximately 590 million metric tons by 2050

It is projected that the global production of thermoplastics will amount to 445.25 million metric tons in 2025. Annual production volumes are expected to continue rising in the following decades, rising to approximately 590 million metric tons by 2050

There is a clear new awareness in thinking about the ethical and societal duties of governments, businesses, and society. Companies that fake their commitment to current environmental challenges will likely face charges for “green-washing.” The repercussions might be severe.

In this new context, the most significant shift is that supply chain processes inside a fashion company are no longer kept hidden; instead, they become more transparent to customers. With this new perspective comes a new communication strategy; fashion businesses must now make extra marketing efforts to clearly and honestly describe their ethical activities.

 

A new challenge for fashion brands: how to create the right communication and marketing frameworks to ensure a new, strong and positive dialogue with Gen Zers

The conversation is now on creating the right communication and marketing framework to ensure a new, strong and positive dialogue with consumers.

The most passionate group of consumers that are against greenwashing are Gen Zers. They tend not to trust brands’ environment, social, and governance (ESG) claims. This post-millennial generation is fierce and passionate, deeply concerned with social responsibility and sustainability: they want to know more about businesses’ tangible, sustainable commitment.

As the impacts of climate change intensify with each passing year, more and more young people are joining the movement for positive change

As the impacts of climate change intensify with each passing year, more and more young people are joining the movement for positive change

 

How to avoid greenwashing: three guidelines for consumers and brands

Looking at the legislative context, the UK government is currently investigating ways to combat greenwashing and enact legislation on the terms used to describe fashion items. But it is up to consumers and brands until a law is passed. 

With Nicola Giuggioli, we learned some key strategies to consider for a brand to avoid greenwashing:

  1. Ensure that facts and evidence are shared transparently and that they support sustainability claims.
  2. Be clear about the company’s goals and share them across all platforms.
  3. Avoid buzzwords such as “green” or “eco-friendly;” companies that back up their claims with action provide precise, rather than general, facts.

The current scenario is still very unclear and seems mainly characterised by moments where companies are found guilty and sued. 

“What is needed is creating an effective system to encourage a new culture of transparency and honest marketing” – Nicola Giuggioli, Chairman of Eco Age

 

A digital product passport to boost circular economy

Many companies are still figuring out how to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability effectively. Some have experimented with digital passports or ways for customers to follow a product’s impact throughout its life cycle.

Nicola Giuggioli is a big supporter of digital passports for clothing, and as part of his work, he meets clients and fashion brands more and more intrigued by this idea. 

By connecting consumers to their item’s journey, digital product passports share brands’ sustainability narratives. Digital fashion passports, also known as Digital Product Passports (DPP), are similar to QR codes, NFCs, or RFIDs and contain detailed information about a specific garment. These passports store all data on a blockchain and then distribute them throughout the value chain. By providing information on the fabrics of their garments, digital product passports help consumers understand the environmental impact of their purchases. Fashion passports are digital platforms that allow brands to share their sustainability story with the public by connecting the buyer to the item’s journey.

The opportunity to find a solution to greenwashing issues is unquestionably here, and digital passports can help develop an effective culture of transparency from brands and retailers to consumers.

 

 

Sennait Ghebreab
Programme Leader of BA Fashion Business programmes, London 
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LONDON
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postgraduate-Master's Degrees · Master's Courses · Master of Arts