Humans are currently consuming the Earth’s resources 1.7 times faster than nature can regenerate, as a reaction to this companies are beginning to take action. As admirable as this is, these efforts are sometimes futile and come across insincere. The fashion industry is responsible for 8% of the worlds carbon footprint making it one of the largest contributors to pollution. This post will explore the research I did as an intern at Selfridges, around the concept of greenwashing and investigate how brands are combating stereotypes to change people’s perception of retail.
What Is greenwashing and who is doing it?
The term ‘greenwashing’ is used to describe companies that overstate their ethical and environmental efforts in order to align with their customers moral beliefs. Companies have been known to misinform their customers on their workers’ rights and their environmental impact, Primark have been called out on numerous occasions for their lack of transparency and care regarding on these issues. Primark have recently unveiled their new sustainable cotton promise, stating that the cotton used is sourced from female farmers in India participating in Primark’s new sustainable cotton programme, one which trains the women to use more sustainable farming methods. As admirable as this is, many are questioning the believability as similar statements have been made before on workers’ rights which were later proved to be false. The biggest problem a lot of the public have with believing these statements is the pricing of the products, it is difficult to believe that a pyjama set costing £6 is priced fairly taking into consideration workers conditions and wages. On top of this they are now ensuring that sustainable materials are being used, the numbers don’t seem to add up.
What are the stereotypes?
Conventional stereotypes not working to empower the public due to the scale of the issue being concentrated into a few main representations. These representations include plastic bottles and polar bears in danger. Most people feel disconnect from both these issues as they are no longer shocking facts. The average person can’t irradiate these issues, leading to feelings of helplessness in the face of climate change.
As an intern at Selfridges I was asked to assess more contemporary way of representing these issues, combating problems that are closer to home and less well known. Selfridge’s efforts prove that these issues are reaching important places and people that can invoke change are trying. In 2015 they began the discourse, reaching some of the richest shoppers internationally. Project Ocean would be seen today as an obvious cliché however they were one of the first large companies to bring such traction to the issue. An ocean of plastic bottles is now an overdone idea, but the project at the time was extremely successful. It has been said that retailers boasting sustainability evidences immense hypocrisy, the world is dying as a result of fast fashion so how can they jump on the band wagon? Although I do understand this perspective, I also admire any persons attempt to make the world a better place to live, Selfridges are promoting second-hand clothes with a Depop area and refuse any plastic being used by staff in store. There will always be a demand for fast fashion which will negatively impact the world however Selfridges are doing better by supplying fashion responsibly and suggesting better ways to shop.
How can we change them?
Transparency throughout the brand – A website should influence change rather than supply messages explaining it, there should be proof that steps are being made towards a better future rather than deceiving paragraphs on the issue. This has been done well by a number of brands, NOAH have added a materials section to each product, outlining what the material is, its impact on the environment and where It is sourced.
Less impactful website. – Did you know that each time you refresh a website on average 6.8g of c02 is released into the atmosphere? And there are 35 billion minutes logged online every month from users worldwide. This figure can be minimised if addressed, a simple website can emit limited c02 if designed correctly. These small insights could make a big difference to how we spend our time online. The website carbon calculator is the best way to determine which websites to shop on. https://www.websitecarbon.com/
Why is it a female’s job to save the world?
It’s easy to follow conventional methods of advertising to align yourself with your target audience however this becomes increasingly difficult when the method being used has a stigma around it. It has been reported countless times that sustainability is a feminine issue and doesn’t appeal to men, but it is clear the tone of voice being used is the issue rather than the message.
It is clear that the advertising strategy for a lot of campaigns is towards women. It has been argued that this is because women are more likely to be affected by climate change. The BCC posted and article in 2018 stating ‘It is not just women in rural areas who are affected. Globally, women are more likely to experience poverty, and to have less socioeconomic power than men. This makes it difficult to recover from disasters which affect infrastructure, jobs and housing.’
This argument may have elements of truth but should not be the reason women are expected to ‘save the world’. Men are equally as important when combating climate change as they play an equal role in polluting the planet, this is why I have proposed that campaigns like MUTHA and many more use pink branding and a feminine voice to attract women as they are more likely to respond emotionally to people in need.
Furthermore, there is a movement going around at the moment called ‘STOP RAISISNG HIM’. This movement addresses women’s frustration with having to be responsible for men’s actions in relationships and in social groups. It is speculation that women mature faster than men however it is very widely agreed that women are more maternal and caring. These factors may contribute to women’s role in climate change.
The challenge for the designers at Selfridges now is to start thinking about how we can integrate sustainability into the stores core systems further. These suggestions are just the first steps on not only changing consumer behaviour for the better, but also offer digital services that align with these new ways of working, knowing the environmental impact has also been considered. Consumers are wanting change and it is the retailer’s job to offer that change and address sustainability.