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Is your favorite fashion brand greenwashing? Use this checklist to find out

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Environmental activists have been sounding the alarm about climate change for decades, but only now is public sentiment shifting: Research finds that more Americans are worried about climate change than ever before. According to a Yale University survey released last year, 73% of Americans now believe in global warming, an increase of 10% since 2015. Nearly half of Americans believe they are being personally harmed by climate change right now, about 15% higher than in 2015.

That has changed what people value in their consumer goods. A just-released study by the Global Fashion Agenda, an international organization devoted to helping the fashion industry become more sustainable, found that 75% of consumers around the world view sustainability as extremely or very important, and mentions of sustainability with regards to fashion in social media have spiked between 2015 and 2018.

But how can you tell the difference between brands that market themselves as sustainable and ones that actually make sustainable products? “Fundamentally, it’s a good thing that brands are feeling pressure to keep up with consumer demand for sustainable companies and products,” says Andrew Chung, who has been investing in sustainable startups since 2011, first at Khosla Ventures, then through his own company, 1955 Capital. “But now the challenge is to distinguish between brands that are making serious, holistic commitments to sustainability, and brands that are making more superficial tweaks.”

In the fashion world, many brands tout a low-carbon footprint, use of recycled plastic, sustainably sourced materials, or a made-to-order business model that reduces excess inventory waste. Some talk about using less water than traditional production methods, while others talk about using deadstock (which are are bolts of fabric that other brands purchased but did not use). Which methods are really helping reduce global greenhouse gas emissions? Which ones are just hype? Here’s a three-part guide to help you figure it out.

Given that consumers care about sustainability, it makes sense that brands want to market their most eco-friendly products. But buyer beware. A large sportswear brand may market a small capsule collection that is made from recycled plastic, or sustainably sourced cotton, which gives the entire company a halo of sustainability, when, in fact, it makes up only a tiny fraction of the company’s total sales, the majority of which are made from regular old virgin plastic.

“All of these efforts are worth celebrating,” says Francois Souchet, the fashion lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is........

© Fast Company