Top 5 Greenwashing Scandals | Holding Fashion Companies Accountable



The gradual movement towards sustainable practice – especially within the fashion industry – has been met with some optimism. Many brands are heeding to the calls of the people, embracing initiatives to reduce their carbon footprints and contribution to landfill waste. Unfortunately other, specifically faster-fashion, brands are capitalizing on the movement, deceiving responsible shoppers into buying their products through misleading sustainability advertisements.


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As sustainable ideology continues to permeate mainstream consciousness, many fashion brands are getting on board, taking necessary initiatives towards more environmentally and socially responsible practice. Take, for example, brands like Patagonia or Stella McCartney. Both have been commended for their commitments to sustainable material innovation – like McCartney’s experimentation with vegan leathers – and recycling incentives – Patagonia is moving toward 100% renewable and recycled materials. While still in their transitional infancy, these brands are making genuine efforts to reduce their footprint and, through their sustainably crafted products, are enabling their customers to do the same.

Over the past few years, however, many – particularly, faster fashion – brands have attempted to hop on the increasingly prominent sustainability band wagon without making the requisite shifts. Greenwashing – the act of making misleading or unproven claims about the environmental impact of a product or service, typically used as a marketing tactic – has taken a toll on the fashion industry. Participant brands actively deceive responsible customers into thinking their purchases are helping the environment when, in reality, these decisions are only hurting the environment and laborers who made the pieces in the first place.

Here, we will get into some of the latest and most notorious greenwashing scandals happening under our noses. 




Currently known as the largest retailer in the world, Zara churns out a whopping 450 million garments a year, releasing 500 new designs every single week. With production levels as large and speedy as this, it is hard to imagine any way in which Zara could possibly be sustainable. While Zara has been reprimanded for greenwashing allegations more than once, perhaps the most notable scandal was back in 2022, when Zara launched a limited edition line of “sustainable” clothing made from carbon captured polyester. Instead of looking inwards and reducing their hyper-productive, over-consumptive business models, Zara committed to an expensive, energy-intensive process that, while commendable, does not come anywhere near solving the crux of their issue. Small collections of “sustainable” products are negligible with the majority of their inventory being built on unsustainable products. 


Another industry giant, H&M has also been accused – on multiple occasions – of greenwashing. A “Close the Loop” campaign was accompanied by clothing collection bins in several H&M retail locations, with the company promising that, of the thousand tonnes of textiles discarded each year, 98% could be recycled, turned into new fabrics (for H&M’s equally problematic “Conscious” collection), and reworn. A promising initiative in theory, this effort was soon debunked, as recycled clothing articles tagged with geo-trackers started turning up halfway around the world rather than to local recycling organizations.

Chalked up to a technical issue requiring further investigation by H&M, this scandal revealed the deceptive nature of large fashion corporations on responsible consumer spending habits. Further investigations have additionally revealed misleading environmental scorecards for products, some of which reflected completely inaccurate data relating to the sustainability of given products.


E-commerce superpower Amazon’s eco-friendly “Aware Collection” – a capsule of carbon-neutral apparel and cosmetic products – was allegedly designed to provide consumers with more “sustainable” shopping alternatives. While the products are, perhaps, in and of themselves more environmentally friendly, evidence has suggested that these products are manufactured over 5,000 miles away, and delivered in single-use plastic packaging. This contradictory sustainable pledge seeks to detract from the actual environmental damage of Amazon’s problematic buy-now-wear-now business model. Products cannot and should not be advertised sustainably if this applies to only certain aspects of their production or design.


In correspondence with its commitment to using only recycled polyester by the year 2024, Adidas’ 2022 launch of the classic Stan Smith sneakers was promoted as “100% iconic” and “50% recycled.” The campaign was even accompanied by a logo which decreed for consumers to “end plastic waste.” Unfortunately, these claims were quite over exaggerated and confusing to consumers who were under the impression that the recycled percentage applied to the shoe as a whole – in reality, only small parts of the shoe’s frame were actually made of such materials. France’s Advertising Ethics Jury found Adidas guilty of using misleading and exaggerated sustainability claims to market their products. 

In another alleged marketing ploy, Adidas’ released trainers made from ocean plastic, used as a promotional material. It was, however, revealed that the ocean plastics in question were found in the Maldives and sent across the world to Taiwan to be made into shoes. So, while semi-sustainable in composition, the manufacturing of these shoes contributed to some serious carbon emissions, making them a lot less sustainable as consumers had been led on to think. 


This February, after a lengthy investigation, online retailer Zalando was reprimanded by the EU regulator regarding deceptive greenwashing claims. Zalando was caught displaying vague symbols — allegedly representing production factors such as “sustainable” or “recycled” — without providing any supporting data as to the actual sustainability of these pieces. The company even introduced a sustainability filter where conscious customers can search for these generically labeled “sustainable” products. Following a dialogue with the European Commission, Zalando has agreed to remove potentially misleading sustainability flags and icons from their product descriptions, making it one of the only brands to change its sustainability messaging with mounting pressures. While perhaps not as overt an offense as some of the aforementioned brands, Zalando’s case shows the subtle inflections through which brands are profiting off of the green movement without any evidence of their commitment towards sustainable practice.


As illuminated by the above examples, greenwashing has a stronghold over the industry. A dangerous practice, greenwashing not only allows guilty brands to feign sustainable practice, but it also detracts from brands who are actually making environmental efforts. Luckily, the rise in greenwashing practice among predominantly fast fashion retailers has been met with new legislation to curb its effects. Through this legislation – proposed throughout a series of international shopping hubs – lawmakers hope to promote sustainable practice in the fashion industry and to encourage greater transparency between clothing brands and the customers they serve.


Highlight Image:
@ Unsplash, Charles Etoroma

+ Words:
Tori Palone
Luxiders Magazine