Legal Matters: What It Means to Market ‘Sustainability’

This is a guest post by Samm Lewis, who earned a dual fashion & law degree.

During a recent shopping trip, I passed a store window with a sign that said ‘Go Green for Summer’ and an image that implied the collection had “environmental benefits.” After going inside and taking a look at the labels, I left feeling confused about which part of the line, apart from the color, was ‘green.’

It led me to begin researching the environmental claims made in marketing; how do we, as consumers, know we can trust brands to be honest with us? And how can brands themselves market the right message?

As someone who is working in marketing and training to be a lawyer, I am aware of the precision by which statements must be made. If there is any confusion in the message, it can often lead to a loss of profits. And let’s face it, for the fashion industry, a loss in profits can be a substantial blow. Going even further, if you communicate misleading information in an advertisement, and consumers buy products based on it, there’s the possibility of opening your brand to a much more damaging court case.

As your brand progresses and grows, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by what you can and cannot say. Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission, the English Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, and the European Union have created user-friendly guides to explain how to honestly market a brand.

The guidelines cover elements such as: carbon neutrality, sustainable sourcing, recycling, the end use of products, what needs to be considered if free-from claims are made or how to weigh up environmental benefits. All three sets of guidelines require similar general key principles, which ask that all environmental claims be:

·        Clear

·        Specific; and

·        Backed by scientific evidence.

So how does this affect the sign I saw? ‘Go Green for Summer’ isn’t clear, specific or backed by scientific evidence. If there were products that had environmental benefits, then the marketing could have continued in-store with a second sign suggesting customers look at a specific product, highlighting its feature, with a certification logo on the tag.

Sustainability involves large amounts of scientific study to determine the most environmentally-efficient manufacturing process, or suitable fibers. There are organizations, such as the Fairtrade Foundation, that inspect suppliers to ensure their products meet requirements before allowing them to use the organization’s mark.

It seems dishonest and unjust to suggest that an item of clothing has environmental benefits when it doesn’t — and yet it happens all of the time. I want to be able to know that the clothes I wear can support manufacturers and farmers who have similar ideals as me.

As a designer, how do you determine whether you should seek out a certification? First, do some research into which organizations demonstrate your philosophies, and then take a look at their recommended list of suppliers and designers. You’ll also have to consider at which point of the manufacturing process you feel  environmental benefits come into play. Finally, consider how your customers will feel about your brand if your certification can be purchased without inspection. Can you justify this decision in your promotional material?

Before you make environmental claims, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Which countries are you selling in?

2. What environmental benefit are you specifying?

3. Which certification mark will you use?

If you wish to look further into the legislation, you learn more here.




Disclaimer: None of the information above purports to be legal advice, if you have further questions about legal matters, consult your legal representative.

[Photo Credit: Earth Times]