Fashion one of the least trusted sectors in sustainability, says UK study


Greenwashing is leading to distrust among consumers, especially in certain sectors, such as fashion. Photo: AFP

There's no point going overboard in promoting any potential environmental commitments, as consumers are not fooled, and expect genuine action and transparency.

This is the takeaway finding of a new study conducted in the UK, which reveals that the fashion industry is perceived as one of the least trustworthy sectors in this respect.

From greenwashing and pink washing to rainbow washing and sportswashing, since the Covid-19 pandemic, these terms have been everywhere, multiplying at pace to denounce the deceptive actions of some brands seeking to boost their reputation in certain fields, such as environmental action.

Many companies still talk up their commitments to help sell products that are supposedly eco-responsible or ethical or whatever, without them really being so at all.

And this phenomenon has led to another, greenhushing, which describes the fear or reticence of brands that genuinely do produce in an eco-responsible way to communicate about their approach.

Consumers are at a loss as to who to believe in this whirlwind of information. As a result, distrust of brands is more prevalent than ever.

Such are the findings of a study conducted by Sensu Insight among 1,682 UK adults, which reveals that the fashion industry is among the least trusted sectors in the eyes of consumers.

Read more: If you already have a mountain of clothes, can you resist buying more this year?

A total lack of trust

Across all sectors, just under a quarter of UK consumers (23%) say they take brands' environmental claims at face value.

Among the less receptive, a minority simply do not believe the claims (14%), three in ten (30%) believe they are exaggerated, and an overwhelming majority (71%) believe they have probably not been verified or checked by an independent expert or regulator.

However, some sectors fare better than others.

Supermarkets, large retailers, the technology sector, and food and beverage manufacturers seem to have more credibility with consumers than airlines, car manufacturers or fashion brands, for example.

Specifically, only 35% of respondents say they are likely to believe the claims of fashion brands.

Only two sectors fare worse: airlines (32%) and travel agencies (33%). On the other hand, supermarkets and large retailers are trusted by more than half of the respondents (51%).

As an example in the fashion sector, Sensu Insight recalls the greenwashing denounced by internet users after the Swedish giant H&M appointed Maisie Williams as an ambassador for sustainable development.

"Critics felt the move was a marketing stunt and money would have been better spent meeting its commitments to provide a living wage for garment workers," the report's authors say.

Read more: Can fast fashion still fuel over-consumption in the secondhand market?

A need for transparency

Make no mistake about it, consumers are not being fooled, and they don't like it when some firms try to pull the wool over their eyes with misleading communications.

More than nine in ten respondents (93%) consider that they have seen what they thought was an example of greenwashing in the last month.

These include supposedly sustainable brands that don't back up their claims with facts or figures (33%), misleading advertising (32%), and false or exaggerated claims about product recycling (30%).

As a result, consumers are changing their behavior (59%) by reducing their spending on a particular brand (23%), boycotting it (15%), or switching to a truly ethical or eco-responsible company (13%).

According to the study, to regain public trust, brands need to show more transparency and (genuine) commitment to the environment, which is currently not the case for 92% of respondents.

But if transparency is the key for most respondents (86%), this must also be achieved through concrete actions, such as offering sustainable versions of existing products (24%).

This study, although it only concerns the UK, proves that companies still have much to do to gain the public's trust when it comes to ecology. – AFP Relaxnews

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