Not all that glitters is gold. This could be the subtitle of the recent report released by the Changing Markets Foundation, whose main findings are that certification schemes and voluntary initiatives facilitate greenwashing in Fashion.

Licence to Greenwash” states that the biggest such schemes – including WRAP and The Sustainable Apparel Coalition – are helping to cement the Fashion Industry’s reliance on fossil fuels, and are largely silent on fast fashion

In other words, certification schemes, labels and industry initiatives aimed at steering the fashion industry onto a greener course are actually acting as a smokescreen for Fashion’s continued heavy toll on the planet.

The report’s results

The report analysed 10 certification labels and Industry initiatives used by Fashion brands to assess or measure their sustainability, investigating whether these schemes are fit for purpose in addressing the harms of the modern Fashion Industry.
Under investigations, among others, were the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The Textile Exchange, WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), Cradle2Cradle, and The Higg Index by the Sustainable ApparelCoalition (SAC).

The investigation assessed their level of ambition, the scope for continuous improvement, independence, transparency, and track record of performance – finding no scheme to be fit for purpose. Analysis showed that across the 10 certification schemes, all failed to hold a sufficiently high standards, all lack 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 reality of things

As the number of voluntary initiatives to address Fashion has increased over the last 5 years, it appears 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. Just in the last 20 years, the use of polyester fibre has more than doubled, driving the industry’s reliance on continued extraction of fossil fuels, and fuelling overproduction and mountains of waste.

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. It also recommends that all but the most ambitious schemes should be abolished, and the industry should instead focus on ushering in ambitious mandatory requirements through legislation.