|This week we’re talking greenwashing—and not the kind that involves sweeping endless pine needles out of your living room.
Our State of Fashion 2023 report, from McKinsey senior partners Anita Balchandani and Achim Berg and coauthors in partnership with the Business of Fashion, notes that addressing greenwashing is a major priority in the upcoming fashion landscape.What exactly is greenwashing? It’s reaping the benefits of hooking sustainably minded consumers without doing the real work—for example, by producing “sustainable” clothing that might not actually be built to last or replacing a traditionally frowned-upon fashion industry practice for one that’s no better for the planet.Greenwashing relies heavily on companies trying to convince consumers that their products are sustainable. Gen Z cares the most about the planet of any generation but is also most on guard for inconsistency in messaging—in a 2021 survey, 88 percent of American Gen Zers said they don’t trust brands’ environment, social, and governance (ESG) claims.
While Gen Zers can be quick to cancel a brand they see as performative, or take their business elsewhere, the billion-dollar question for the retail industry now is how and when these sustainability claims can be regulated. Questions of just what sustainable fashion is and who can claim to sell it are still being wrung out; 42 percent of American Gen Zers in a 2021 survey said they didn’t even know what makes clothes sustainable.
In the meantime, fast-fashion brands that use green language are facing more scrutiny, with half of Chinese Gen Z consumers saying they’re cutting back on their fast-fashion purchases for environmental reasons. Other brands are veering away from the sustainable label altogether to avoid kickback as they work out their eco-friendly futures.
If you’re a brand (or reading the label of one), here are some suggestions: