Companies are lying to us by greenwashing their products


Aimee Pearcy

Activists in front of an H&M calling out their harmful actions.

By Sydney Race, Forest Hills Central High School

In 2020, H&M, a popular fast-fashion brand, launched Conscious. H&M’s motive for Conscious was to be “clean” and “repurposed.” The clothing from the line was made from “100% organic cotton,” and it was supposed to be an “environmental wake-up call” for other manufacturers. 

The launch of Conscious was a major shift in the right direction for H&M. The fast-fashion giant changed its storefronts to promote environmentalism, but less than a year later, Changing Markets Foundation in Europe denounced H&M for being deceiving with the product descriptions and using vague language. 

Ninety-six percent of claims that H&M made to promote Conscious were misleading and fake. Instead of their clothing being produced from 100% organic cotton, only 20% of it actually was organic cotton because “it wouldn’t have the same quality.” Under Conscious’ section on H&M’s website, it never stated where the materials were sourced. 

H&M tricked consumers globally into thinking they were purchasing sustainable clothing made from recycled and clean materials, and they even went as far as changing the storefronts. This is an example of greenwashing: a marketing tactic companies use to promote a product as “eco-friendly.”

Companies in every market greenwash, or make it out to seem that they’re selling a product that’s sustainable and ethical. Greenwashing is everywhere, and it is inescapable unless the fine print is read—that is if the company decides to even include the fine print. Sometimes, companies are discreet about their greenwashing tactics, and other times, such as in H&M’s case, it’s quite obvious. 

H&M and other fast-fashion giants aren’t sustainable at all. These companies cater to microtrends instead of producing products that will stay in style and are meant to last. Products from fast-fashion companies are produced with cheap materials and are usually made in factories by implementing the use of child labor. That’s why brands like Shein, Fashion Nova, and Forever 21 can sell their products for such low prices. 

Fast-fashion companies still try and push the idea that they’re not harming the environment by marketing their products
as “sustainable” and “green.” A similar situation has arisen with different cleaning and hygiene brands. 

Innisfree, a skincare brand from South Korea, has “Hello, I’m a paper bottle.” on the front in big letters. From the front, it looks like it was truly made from a paper bottle, but when it was cut open, consumers discovered the effects of a normalized issue.

Labeling products as “environmentally safe” and marketing them as a better alternative are not the only ways companies are fooling the world.”

The “Hello, I’m a paper bottle.” product wasn’t actually made from a paper bottle; it was a plastic bottle wrapped in paper with a green label slapped onto the front. A similar scandal happened with Seventh Generation. This company sells laundry detergent in a paper bottle, but the paper bottle isn’t what kept the product from leaking out. There’s a plastic bag inside, and the paper bottle initiative, once again, tricked consumers. Seventh Generation, at least, included that the product was made with 66% less plastic in very small letters on the back of the bottle.

Labeling products as “environmentally safe” and marketing them as a better alternative are not the only ways companies are fooling the world. Brands will incorporate plants and other natural ingredients on the front of their packaging, or in other cases, just make the entire label green. “Natural,” “clean,” and “green” are unregulated terms, meaning any brands can use them however they like. This is where H&M got grounded with the “vague language” statement when they greenwashed their buyers into thinking they were actively making a difference. 

Walking through the “natural” aisle in grocery stores is truly deceiving. All sorts of terms are printed in bold to try and lure customers into their tricks. It happens in every aisle, in every grocery store, in every country. Unless the product has the proper certifications, never assume that companies aren’t being delusive.

This story was originally published on The Central Trend on October 25, 2021.