Marketing and Comms
Study Reveals Few Fashion Brands Are Walking Their Sustainability Talk

A recent study by brand comparison website Rank a Brand shows discrepancies in sustainability talk and action in the fashion industry. The report finds that while fashion brands are tackling sustainability challenges through communication (63 percent speak of sustainability on their websites, 10 percent more than in 2011; 20 percent publish a sustainability report), many are not backing it with details and data.

Rank a Brand said that “a large number of the fashion brands researched create the impression that they are doing the right thing for sustainability, but then fail to produce relevant and tangible information about the action they are taking.” As a result, it has placed 30 percent of brands on 'Greenwashing Alert.' The numbers rise for the shoes (52 percent) and lingerie/underwear sectors (50 percent) and dip for the Jeans &Denim (13 percent) and Fashion Retailer sub-sectors (10 percent).

“These are the brands which only score an E-Label for sustainability action, even though they communicate about sustainability. These brands appear to talk about sustainability rather than taking positive action. They run the risk of being accused of greenwashing and ultimately that could turn consumers away from them,” cautions the site.

The dozens of brands on the Greenwashing Alert list include Louis Vuitton, New Yorker, Hugo Boss, Hollister, DKNY, Hush Puppies, Michael Kors, Fossil, Jockey, Triumph, Chantelle, Bugatti Shoes, Columbia, Marc Jacobs and Pepe Jeans. With less than 10 percent of the researched 368 brands performing at a high level of follow-through on their sustainability plans, the report distinguishes companies in a number of categories: Timberland was the sole honoree in the Best Practice Climate category; Ethletic and Nudie Jeans were recognized for Best Practice Labor; and 100% Organic Cotton, armedangels, Bleed, Freitag, Greenality, Pants to Poverty, recolution, Saint basics and veja were all named for Best Practice Ecology.

Some of the other notable results are:

  • 50 percent of fashion brands have a policy to minimize, reduce or offset carbon emissions — a rise from 39 percent in 2011. But very few can show strong commitment or concrete results — just 4 percent show significant emission reductions over the last five years; 3 percent have formulated a target for the next five years; and only 7 percent apply their policies to their supply chain, which is where the most greenhouse gas emissions occur.
  • Most of the progress has been in the introduction of wet processes and the elimination of hazardous chemicals (16 percent) in production.
  • While luxury and children's clothing lag behind, sport and outdoor clothing brands scored the highest average due to an above-average transparency about the use of environmentally preferable materials.
  • Fair labor conditions is purportedly the highest priority for fashion brands - 53 percent of the brands had published a supply chain code of conduct that prohibits slave labor, child labor, discrimination and demands a safe and hygienic workplace. Actual implementation and transparency is weak, however, with only 7 percent publishing lists of direct suppliers and just 9 percent reporting on code of conduct compliance.
  • 33 percent of the brands had joined at least one multi-stakeholder initiative, and produce a significant share of their clothing in socially certified production facilities, and/or in countries which are considered to be low-risk for the exploitation of workers.

“A Code of Conduct is worthless if it is not actually implemented,” says Rank a Brand. Disasters in the production cycle, along with increasing pressure from customers and environmental organizations, has made the fashion industry attempt a clean-up. The report says that Greenpeace's Detox campaign has obtained commitments from many including H&M, Puma, Adidas, Zara and Nike to eliminate the most hazardous chemicals from the product's lifecycle by 2020. The 2013 Detox Catwalk, an update on performance regarding these commitments published by Greenpeace and Rank a Brand's recent findings are similar in their identification of industry leaders and laggards.

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