A new report by the Changing Markets Foundation recently alleged that a series of sustainability certification schemes, labels and industry initiatives have acted as a smokescreen for the fashion industry’s continued heavy toll on the planet.

The release of the report preceded the European Commission adopted the EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles.

License to Greenwash by the Changing Markets Foundation analyzed ten certification labels and industry initiatives used by fashion brands to assess or measure their sustainability including: the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The Textile Exchange, WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Program), Cradle2Cradle, and The Higg Index by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). It assessed their level of ambition, the scope for continuous improvement, independence, transparency, and track record of performance – finding none of them fit for purpose, according to an article published by Innovation in Textiles.

 “These schemes are unambitious, unaccountable, compromised talking shops that result in an industry-wide decoy for unsustainable practices, enabling sophisticated greenwashing on a vast scale,” stated the Changing Markets Foundation report. The analysis concluded that across the ten certification schemes, all failed to hold sufficiently high standards, all lacked accountability, and all are procrastinating on progress on the issues of circularity, including overproduction, the rise of fast fashion, and the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The SAC, for example, was found to have created no measurable impact over the last decade. The SAC’s Higg Index also allows brands to cherry-pick which issues they want to engage with and rates fossil-fuel derived synthetics as the more sustainable choice. As the number of voluntary initiatives to address fashion has increased over the last five years it may appear that the industry is addressing concerns regarding sustainability. Yet the report shows that the industry’s environmental impact has worsened significantly over the same period. In just the last 20 years, the use of polyester fiber has more than doubled, driving the industry’s reliance on continued extraction of fossil fuels, and fueling overproduction and mountains of waste.

“While fashion brands double down on production and environmental destruction, they’re using sustainability certification schemes and voluntary initiatives as a smokescreen,” said George Harding-Rolls, campaign manager at the Changing Markets Foundation.“These schemes are unambitious, unaccountable, compromised talking shops that result in an industry-wide decoy for unsustainable practices, enabling sophisticated greenwashing on a vast scale.”


He added, “We don’t need any more voluntary schemes. Certification and initiatives such as those in the report act as a placebo, creating a false promise that the industry will address sustainability voluntarily. We urgently need comprehensive legislation to change the course of the fashion industry onto a greener path.”

The report argues that policymakers and customers alike are lulled into a false sense of security through these initiatives. This has resulted in systemic reforms being delayed and derailed, such as laws that would drive greater transparency and circularity.The report shows how certification schemes are providing a license to greenwash allowing brands like Primark and Boohoo to escape accountability for policymakers. For example, Boohoo used its membership of initiatives such as the SAC, WRAP and The Microfiber Consortium to pull the wool over the eyes of the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee while under scrutiny over its 2020 slavery scandal, despite the schemes they cited being unambitious and underperforming.

Market research by the Changing Markets Foundation has found that one in three (34%) of consumers in the UK have chosen to purchase items with green labels or certifications either frequently or always. Consumers also stated that they look upon certification or third-party initiatives as trusted sources of information on a brands’ green credentials, highlighting the need for the flaws of such schemes to be urgently addressed.

The Changing Markets Foundation has recommended that all but the most ambitious certification programs should be abolished, and the industry should instead focus on ushering in ambitious mandatory requirements through legislation. Any remaining voluntary programs should remove conflicts of interest, strive for impartiality, embrace a more holistic approach to the whole lifecycle of products and require brands to transparently publish information, which should be audited by a third-party. The Changing Markets Foundation’s mission is to drive change through a more sustainable economy and expose irresponsible corporate practices. www.changingmarkets.org