February 2, 2022
In the early 20th century, America transitioned into a consumer society, emitting massive amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere. Marine debris, deforestation, exploitation of natural resources, and habitat destruction have also exponentially increased as a result.
Mass production of factory-made and non-eco-friendly products has made significant contributions to increasingly transparent issues like climate change.
According to Investopedia, two-thirds of climate change is caused by carbon dioxide emissions, where China, the United States, and India are the top three participants, and 10% of these emissions come from the fast fashion industry.
At the same time, another significant portion can come from greenwashing. Both greenwashing and the creation of the fast fashion industry are effects of industrialization and consumer society.
The fast fashion industry has proved itself to be the opposite of sustainable for the environment or ethical for its workers. According to Good on You, 93% of fast fashion brands do not pay their workers a wage high enough to afford everyday essentials. They also often employ younger women and children because of fast fashion companies’ increasing demand for workers and the belief that it’s their only way to provide for their families.
Despite this, fast fashion brands like Shein, Zara, and PrettyLittleThing remain popular, especially among teenagers. With these brands, it is easy to find something affordable and trendy in a place located easily in any local mall or on the internet. But is the short-term cheap price paid by consumers worth the long-term damage to the environment?
“When shopping unsustainably or unethically, things that aren’t in use anymore [end up going] out to the trash, and it piles up [into] huge landfills,” said Zoe Byun, cofounder of the Bay Area Youth Climate Action Team and a senior at Carlmont.
According to Consumption and the Consumer Society, what truly allowed the consumer society to flourish is each individual’s desire to define themselves through material items. Individual initiative alongside technological innovations collectively led to an era of noticeable climate change issues. While consumers are unable to control company decisions to minimize their impacts on the environment or not, they can decide where they are buying from.
“Hands down, fast fashion is one of the easiest things for people to avoid. When you want something cheap, you can go find it secondhand for a [lesser] price,” said Taylor Hawkins, an environmental science teacher at Carlmont High School.
Through thrifting, those who wish to express and define themselves can browse through a wider variety of clothes at a lower price.
“You feel better about yourself [when] you shop sustainably, and [thrifting] is also more unique,” said Abby Kizner, a junior at Carlmont.
Secondhand shops are also becoming almost as accessible as fast-fashion shops as they make their presence online through apps like Depop and Poshmark. On these platforms, users can buy and sell new and used items. There are also many alternatives to thrifting if it is inaccessible or unpreferred. Brands like Patagonia, New Balance, Adidas are some ethical and sustainable options.
Shopping sustainably means supporting eco-friendly brands that have environmentally-conscious practices like using recycled materials, reducing water usage, and minimizing waste
— Abby Kizner, a junior at Carlmont
The pricing of these brands may turn some people away from shopping there, but many companies work to make these brands more affordable.
Both of these brands, along with many others, now accept Afterpay. This financial technology company allows customers to pay four installments over six months for their purchase instead of paying all at once. Afterpay is accepted both online and in-stores and can be downloaded for free.
Afterpay opens the option for those who want to shop from more sustainable yet expensive brands and don’t necessarily have the funds to at the time. Thrift stores open the opportunity for people to shop more sustainably and express themselves through unique articles of clothing.
While the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry on the environment are being known and exposed to more and more people, greenwashing companies are often overlooked. The term “greenwashing” refers to companies that falsely advertise their products as environmentally friendly and their practices as sustainable.
“I think most brands that claim they are ethical and sustainable are not or don’t necessarily meet the qualifications or requirements to be labeled as so,” Hawkins said.
Companies that greenwash make claims about their products being made from recycled materials or are eco-friendly. Exaggerating sustainable practices in a company to consumers is also considered a form of greenwashing.
The fast fashion industry participates in greenwashing, but so did companies like Volkswagen, Mercedes, Nestle, Starbucks, and IKEA.
According to Columbia University and BBC, Volkswagen and Mercedes were both involved in a similar greenwashing scandal. The car companies cheated emissions examinations by equipping their cars with a device that identifies when it was receiving an emissions test and subsequently reduces emissions level during the test. The test results were then used in advertising and marketing campaigns to prove the low impact of their products on the environment, when in fact, Volkswagen vehicles emitted up to 40 times the permitted emission levels for nitrogen peroxide.
Greenwashing scandals are also present in other industries such as the fact that Starbucks’s strawless lid in 2018 was made up of more plastic than its previous combination of straw and cap or IKEA’s connections to illegal logging in Ukraine.
Far more companies in various industries tend to greenwash. For example, cosmetic brands, banks, and cleaning product brands have also been involved with greenwashing. While it may be difficult for consumers to recognize companies that greenwash through false advertising, there are a few common greenwashing marketing strategies and ways to reduce the chance of purchasing from a falsely sustainable company.
Typical greenwashing strategies include green by association, red herring, and bait-and-switch. Green by association uses nature around products on advertisements for consumers to make a positive connection between the product and the environment.
The red herring strategy is when a company makes one portion of their products environmentally friendly and emphasizes that line despite the rest of their products being damaging to the environment. The red herring can also occur when the product or packaging is environmentally friendly but not the other, and the product is still marketed as sustainable for the environment. The bait-and-switch tactic is employed when one actual environmentally friendly product is heavily promoted, but the distributed products to customers are copies of the product that is not environmentally friendly.
Several small businesses are founded with a mission statement of being ethical and sustainable and following through. Many people are astonished by how much waste that factories produce. Anna Kholodna, the owner of NINIco, an eco-friendly jewelry brand, was one of these shocked individuals.
“I went to work for a corporation, and I really liked it, but it made me crazy how many pieces were made every day when there’s a sustainable alternative in the world,” Kholodna said.
With this, Kholodna founded her own jewelry brand. Kholodna’s products are made from cellulose acetate, a highly biodegradable material. Cellulose acetate is a natural plastic made from tree pulp and cotton. It’s a much better alternative for regular plastic, which is made from petroleum resin, a material that isn’t biodegradable, meaning that it stays in the environment longer and takes centuries to break down into nature. In doing this, petroleum resin can leak chemicals and carbon dioxide into the air for numerous years.
Kholodna admits that not all of her business practices are entirely eco-friendly, but she continues to try her best to be as environmentally cautious as possible.
“I do store my jewelry in plastic bags, but [even still] I use them over and over again,” Kholodna said. “I also made sure that they are the recyclable ones.”
Kholodna is one of a handful of business owners that can say her products are made from 100% eco-friendly materials, thus, she preaches caring for the environment and sustainable practices.
“I would tell [businesses that aren’t sustainable] to look at themselves from the side and see the impact on the world they are living in,” Kholodna said. “We really have to take care of the environment because the better we do now, the better we’ll be leaving our kids and grandkids.”