How To Tell If a Brand Is Sustainable or Greenwashing

Lately, we have seen the word “sustainable” being thrown around the internet through different marketing campaigns.

 ​​Let us first define what it means for a company to be ethical and sustainable or to greenwash.


Ethical: This means paying your workers fairly and treating them well throughout the supply chain. Companies should also avoid mistreatment of animals (and generally avoid animal products) in their production process.

Sustainable: This means minimizing environmental impact through the production and sourcing of materials. Sustainable fashion companies should:

  • Use resources efficiently (like water and textiles) and avoid hazardous chemicals
  • Source high-quality and environmentally-friendly materials that can break down naturally (or are recycled)
  • Encourage consumers only to buy what they need

The last point is severely underrated, in my opinion, as a company’s marketing and consumption habits are an essential part of sustainability. It’s not sustainable to promote or buy tons of clothes that you don’t need, even if they were made ethically and sustainably. This is a common misconception about sustainable fashion.

When it comes to fashion, “ethical” and “sustainable” are generally umbrella terms to mean that the company treats its workers well and minimizes environmental impact throughout the production process. These two terms are used pretty interchangeably, though they mean different things. That said, I don’t think a company can genuinely be ethical without considering the environmental impact, and likewise, a company can’t be sustainable without considering the human impact. I used to think it was good that these were used interchangeably, but it may be best to make the distinction as I see too many “sustainable” companies that aren’t ethical.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when companies market themselves as eco-friendly but don’t live up to those claims.

Some greenwashing red flags are:

  • They say nothing about sustainability: there probably isn’t anything good to report, so the company is to be avoided. If they did have any meaningful measures, they would likely use them in their marketing. (Technically, a company must claim to be sustainable to greenwash, but I wanted to identify this red flag of unsustainable companies).
  • They talk about sustainability in very vague terms: it’s not uncommon to see claims like “we’re eco-friendly” but no specific measures to back that up.
  • They only have a couple of items or a specific line made sustainably: many companies will try to get a “green halo” effect by promoting select items made from sustainable materials. An example of this is H&M’s Conscious collection, which might be an excellent initiative, but that doesn’t change their overarching detrimental business model.

Look for 3rd Party Certificates - you might wonder how you can be sure a company is doing what it claims. These certifications require companies to uphold specific standards to display their label. You also have to pay a membership fee and consent to random audits.

​​Some popular certifications include:

B Corp—This certification is company-wide, not product-specific. To qualify, companies must evaluate their entire social and environmental performance, including their supply chain, materials, employee benefits, and impact on local communities. Companies must also meet transparency requirements. There are many awesome B Corps, but no one is perfect. B Corp has come under criticism for allowing MLM Arbonne to be certified.

Fairtrade—The premise of Fairtrade is setting a Fairtrade Minimum Price for materials that were produced sustainably. This minimum price is above market levels. If a buyer pays a Fairtrade Premium, that money must be reinvested in the local community. Producers must follow eco-friendly practices, such as safe waste management.

At Consigning Women, we do not throw the word sustainable around lightly. Consigning Women began with sustainability as the core piece of our existence. We believe that the most sustainable piece of clothing is one that you already own.  We understand that you can fall out of love with pieces, so consigning at Consigning Women is also included in the top 5 of being sustainable.  When you consign the pieces you have fallen out of love with, you will be offering them a new life for someone who will love them from here on out.

We are currently accepting your summer pieces, even if it has still been feeling like winter out there.