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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

4 December 2014

Mainstreaming Sustainable Fashion - Credible Claims

Contributor Lisa Schneider

Mantis World

SOURCE Intelligence columnist, Lisa Schneider, looks at why it's important to give consumers credible proof of your positive social and environmental impact when trying to communicate sustainability to the mainstream market. Image: Mantis World

Sustainable fashion has an image problem. On the whole, consumers worldwide hold somewhat negative perceptions towards ‘green’ fashion which, of course, affects purchasing behaviour. Sustainability marketing strategies haven’t been very successful in getting mainstream consumers excited about sustainable, ethical fashion.

In the introduction of this series (Mainstreaming Sustainable Fashion – The Issues), we have laid out the issues surrounding sustainable fashion communications and how these factors have kept it from resonating with the mainstream consumer.

This series will offer you 15 strategies and solutions to communicate more effectively and attractively the sustainability story of your company and products, and, ultimately, improve ‘green’ fashion’s rather negative public image.

This is the fourth instalment, and looks at why you should and in what ways you can provide credible proof of your social and environmental claims.


Much of today’s consumer scepticism surrounding what makes a product “sustainable” has been the direct result of “greenwashing” – which is when a company makes an environmental claim about a product that is untruthful or obscures other less desirable business practices.

This is partly due to the Internet and much more access to information than ever before – companies are easily called out for making these kinds of false or dodgy greenwashing claims. And within minutes a bit of bad press can go viral.

Surprisingly, companies do still try to trick people into believing claims that lack credibility. In fact, only 5% of green marketing claims were in fact found to be true in 2012¹. Don’t let your company be one of them. Being accused of greenwashing weakens customer trust, loyalty and hurts your brand’s overall image. Being credible is the name of the game when it comes to “green marketing.”

Be Specific

Making specific claims will give you credibility. As it was already pointed out in the Define- article of our series, using vague terms can easily lead to greenwash accusations and customers questioning your credibility.

Additionally, be objective and use hard, precise facts to support your message. Studies² have found that specific sustainability claims enhance purchase intentions and a create a more favourable brand and product attitude. Unspecific claims, on the other hand, have been found to cause negative perceptions of a company.

So don’t just say “Our denim jeans are now more sustainable.” Instead, tell your customers exactly how you have improved: ‘We have made our blue denim more green. They now use 3.750 litres less water in their production, a reduction of 80%.”

Seek Partners

Partnering up with organisations (e.g. NGOs) can similarly enhance credibility. Yet, it is important that your partner is well-known amongst your customers. So do your research first (see the Research article in our series for more info) and find out which kind of organisations your customer is already familiar with.

And as in any collaboration, make sure your chosen organisation is in line with your brand identity and vision. It is crucial that both partners have the same fundamental goals and philosophy. In this sense, Marks & Spencer has partnered with Oxfam on the ‘Shwopping’ clothing take-back initiative scheme. H&M and Inditex have just recently joined the ‘Fashion loved by Forests’ campaign which is run in partnership with ‘Canopy’, an environmental NGO focused in saving the world’s forests. With this project, the two major high-street retailers and around 20 other brands aim to reduce their usage of viscose, rayon and modal fibres sourced from endangered forests around the world.

Get Certified

Seek product labels or certification systems which will back up you social and environmental claims. But again, they must be familiar to your customer to have a the desired, positive effect.

There are a lot of different certifications available and choosing the right options can be tricky. For an introduction and overview of relevant labels and certifications see the SOURCE Intelligence articles on ‘Standards & Labelling’ as well as ‘Getting to know standards and labels’.

Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver

Don’t lead people into believing your products are 100% sustainable – even if what you’re doing is truly transformative. Be honest about what your business and your products are and what they are not. To avoid confusion, make clear what you are talking about and define your terms (see the Define- article of this series) appropriately.

In the next article we will concentrate on how to simplify your message and make it easily understandable for your consumers.


¹ Mishra, P. & Sharma, P. (2012). Green Marketing: Challenges and Opportunities for business. Journal of Marketing and Communication, vol. 8, Issue 1, pp. 35-41.

² Umit Alniacik & Cengiz Yilmaz, 2012, The Effectiveness of Green Advertising: Influences of Claim Specificity, Product’s Environmental Relevance and Consumers’ Pro-environmental Orientation, The AMFITEATRU ECONOMIC Journal, Vol. 14(31), pages 207-222

Davis, J., 1993, Strategies for Environmental Advertising. Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 10 (2), pp. 19-36

Peloza, J., Loock, M., Cerruti, J., Muyot, M., 2012, Sustainability: How Stakeholder Perceptions Differ From Corporate Reality. California Management Review, Vol. 55 (1), pp. 74-97

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