In a new report, the Changing Markets Foundation found that fashion certification programs “act as a smokescreen” for the industry’s environmental impact. The report finds that several of the largest certification programs – including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), WRAP and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index – have enabled “greenwashing”.
The report, titled “Licence to Greenwash”, analyzes ten certification labels and industry initiatives used by fashion brands and measures their sustainability. The inquiry then decided whether these programs were “fit” to address the misdeeds of the modern fashion industry.
Evaluating brands based on their level of ambition, scope for continuous improvement, independence, transparency and track record of performance, the report found no program fit for purpose. The ten certification schemes failed to “maintain high standards, were unaccountable for their actions and all dithered on progressive issues of circularity” – including overproduction, fast fashion and reliance on the fossil fuel industry.
The report highlights the fashion industry’s lack of regulation, with certification schemes existing in the absence of environmental legislation in an effort to move the industry towards sustainability. However, notes the Changing Markets Foundation, the existence of these programs and the lack of accountability within them allow “greenwashing”. The Changing Market Foundation says such programs allow producers to affix certification labels to individual products or publicize their membership in the programs, thereby tricking consumers into “putting their money where their values are”.
Market research by the Changing Markets Foundation found that one in three consumers (34%) in the UK choose to buy items bearing green labels or certifications, either frequently or always. One in three also said they consider third-party certification programs or initiatives to be trusted sources of information about brands’ green credentials. Yet, the organization says, underperforming programs allow brands such as Primark and Boohoo to escape real accountability.
The release of the new report comes ahead of the EU’s textile strategy, which is due out on March 30. The strategy sets a blueprint for the EU moving towards a circular and climate-neutral economy, where products are durable, repairable and reusable – tackling overconsumption and waste generated by industry due to fashion quick.
Currently, the textile sector is the fourth highest pressure category in the EU in terms of the use of primary raw materials and water, after food, housing and transport. Over the past 20 years, the use of polyester fiber has doubled, increasing the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels and fueling overproduction and waste.
George Harding-Rolls, campaign manager at the Changing Markets Foundation, said: “As fashion brands double down on production and environmental destruction, they are using sustainability certification schemes and voluntary initiatives as a smoke. stores that result in an industry-wide lure for unsustainable practices, enabling sophisticated greenwashing on a massive scale.
“We no longer need voluntary schemes. Certification and initiatives such as those described in the report act like a placebo, creating a false promise that industry will voluntarily address sustainability. We urgently need a comprehensive legislation to change the course of the fashion industry on a greener path.”