Promoted by Expo Riva Schuh & Gardabags, in collaboration with WGSN, the digital event hosted on 25 November by Ailis Swords-McDonnell focused on a theme that is always at the top of the consumers’ agenda: sustainability. The webinar emphasised how to convey a positive and credible message to consumers, capable of increasing trust in the brand, trying not to make them fall into the greenwashing trap.
Allbirds, a footwear company with B Corp certification, which has been able to combine comfort, design and sustainability, is one of those outstanding brands on the list of case histories that have used transparency as a primary strategy to communicate their commitment to sustainability with authenticity and effectiveness. The ‘try-before-you-commit-to-keep’ programme which allows you to return items within 30 days, or the Allbirds Carbon Fund programme, which aims to achieve 100% zero emissions through an internal self-imposed carbon tax and aimed at financing emission reduction projects on the planet, are among the initiatives that the brand has carried out in the direction of sustainability. The carbon footprint label applied to each shoe, which informs the consumer about the impact of that product on the planet, is also worth mentioning. Allbirds also started collaborations aimed at sustainable objectives with other competing brands through their committment to share knowledge, expertise, ideas and resources, as recently happened with Adidas, with which it collaborated for the development of the sneaker ‘lowest-ever carbon footprint’.
Another example of radical transparency is Pangaia, which among other things published its first Impact Report in 2020 that shows the initiatives taken to achieve its sustainable goals. Pangaia is a clear example of a brand with transparent and honest communication towards the consumer, who is constantly informed on the results achieved, on those still to be achieved and on the areas to be improved.
The last example is H&M which has chosen to apply the Higg Index and shared its 2020 Sustainability Report with the consumer, demonstrating that even in the fast fashion sector, you can invest in sustainability with seriousness and transparency.
There are brands that have combined transparent communication with actions to support the protection of the planet and human well-being. These include the US outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, which in 2019 won the UN Champions of the Earth Award, receiving the UN’s top environmental honour for putting sustainability at the heart of its successful business model. We recall initiatives like its Worn Wear programme of second-hand items, or 1% for the planet, which donates 1% of the proceeds from sales to non-profit initiatives. Equally famous is also its ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign, which aims to push the consumer to reflect on over-consumption, or the website that puts consumers in contact with local groups dedicated to protecting the environment.
Another example is Levi’s and its ‘Join us, use water less’ campaign in favour of saving water in the production of jeans, starting from the cultivation practices of cotton, up to the production of jeans, and the use consumers make of it.
An example of effective social activism is Kotn, which has focused on the social and human sustainability of its supply chain.
Finally, WGSN provides two examples of brands that have missed the goal of transparency and sustainability, falling into the trap of greenwashing. The first is the fast fashion giant Asos with its ‘Responsible Edit’, a selection of products claimed to have a low environmental impact, without specifying the measures and actions taken, just as there is no evidence regarding the reduction in water and textile waste consumption, especially since many items in this collection include a mix of materials that are difficult to recycle. The brand has also created a circular clothing collection, but without offering the possibility to return the garments used for textile recycling.
The second example is Amazon, a brand that has also fallen into the trap of hypocrisy with its announcement to commit to zero emissions by 2040, despite the consumer having evidence of how the company pushes consumerism and fast shipping.
The key points to avoid greenwashing are: show total transparency; be consistent in communication; avoid bold or false claims; avoid distraction policies with minor actions and initiatives that aim to shift the attention from a substantially unsustainable business.
We need to: use verified certifications; be completely transparent; engage in activism; educate and inform the public.