Seminar: The Great Greenwashing Machine

On Thursday 8 September, Eco-age, the integrated sustainable business strategy agency, held a webinar on the famous topic of Greenwashing and the ‘white paper’ called The Great Greenwashing Machine, written by Veronica Bates Kassatly and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, two of the guests on the web panel. 

This book is divided into two parts: the first assesses how fashion contributes to significant change while being a major polluter of air, water, and soil, as well as a facilitator of sweatshop labor conditions. In addition to this, it considers how brands have created sustainability programs to ensure that governments, consumers, and investors are addressing their social and environmental impact. 

The second part, on the other hand, is more concerned with the insufficient level of importance that is given to social impact in fashion sustainability, where current assessments are generally ignoring the harmful outcomes in the use and disposal of garments, and are not measuring impact by wear and tear but by the kilo. In conclusion, action points for each issue are indicated to policymakers to meet the needs of the present. 

The panel was led by Livia Firth, co-founder and creative director of Eco-age. Also invited were renowned and knowledgeable professionals such as:

  • Auret van Herdeen – labor rights expert, founder, and CEO of Equiception, a consultancy specializing in sustainable supply chains, corporate social responsibility, and workers’ rights; executive director of the Academy for Sustainable Business and senior advisor to the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University.
  • David Perry – Legal Director of CMA, currently studying the implications of consumer protection law for environmental claims; specialist in consumer protection law.
  • Dorothee Baumann-Pauly – Director of the new Geneva Centre for Business and Human Rights, opened in 2019 by (UniGE). She has also been Director of Research at NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights since 2013, in addition to publishing numerous articles on topics at the intersection of business ethics, corporate responsibility, private governance mechanisms, and human rights.
  • Veronica Bates-Kassatly – an Independent analyst of sustainability claims in the global garment sector, has published articles on the Critical Review system for safeguarding the reliability and accuracy of fiber LCAs, among others.  
  • Tone Skardal Tobiasson – Sustainable fashion advocate, author, journalist, and co-founder of Nordic Initiative Clean & Ethical (NICE) Fashion. In addition to co-authoring several books, she is a regular contributor to EcoTextile News and other international publications related to her advocacy work.

The speech was based on the question: how to avoid the phenomenon of Greenwashing? It discussed how consumers and regulators actually define it and how rapidly changing legislation can be compiled. It started with Livia Firth highlighting that when talking about Greenwashing, it is always about the environment and never about the social component. Auret van Herdeen added that it is about entering a new era in terms of the way companies operate, moving to mandatory standards, and focusing on Human Rights.

Source: https://eco-age.com/

“Sustainability is mostly green, it does not take into account the social impact, separating this component from the environment”, supported Dorothee Baumann, “we look at the working conditions in the factories but not at the whole supply chain, the real relationship between brands and suppliers”. 

Veronica Bates was also quite indignant about the issue, saying: “It is unjust to look only at environmental impact and not at socio-economic impact”. She stated that if brands “really wanted to reduce impact, they should commit to an agreement on aligned methodologies”. Tone Skardal added that sharing information between business partners, suppliers and stakeholders is essential. David Perry agreed with this and highlighted the importance of producing guidance based on accuracy (whether what you say as a company is truthful and correct), understanding (what consumers understand about the organization’s message), and culture (how people are educated about accuracy and understanding). 

The seminar ended with questions asked by online viewers, such as what tools consumers should apply at the time of a purchase decision and what recommendations should be taken into account for companies to protect themselves from Greenwashing. Speakers agreed that the industry needs to standardize a specific methodology, to ensure that brands are applying exactly the same method and complying with the same limits. In addition, companies must be fully transparent with consumers and consumers must have easy access to their information to avoid greenwashing, something that ultimately turns into innovation and a better result for the brand itself.

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