Ecological or falsely advertised? Sustainable fashion advertising in Europe: dos and don’ts



Sustainable fashion is all the rage and chain stores are too eager to cater to consumers who want to shop in a more environmentally friendly way. “Sustainable”, “ecological” and “ecologically ethical” are words that we see appearing more and more often in fashion advertising. But are these clothes and materials really respectful of the environment? Or is it just a practical marketing tool (called greenwashing)? In this article, we’ll take a closer look and give some practical legal guidelines for sustainable fashion advertising.

Greenwash or not greenwash? Problems with advertising for sustainable materials in Europe

A study by the European Commission (“Consumer market research on environmental claims for non-food products”, 2014) shows that green claims and misleading marketing are occurring in the European fashion industry. Some fashion companies claim that their clothes are made of durable materials. The central problem, however, is that no European legal standard has been established to verify sustainability claims. In addition, there is no guidance to consumers and other market players as to what exactly is meant by so-called “sustainable” materials and how they can be verified. Without these standards, consumers might consider a garment to be more environmentally friendly than it actually is. For example, some collections claim to be “sustainable” fashion because they are made from 100% cotton, Tencel or recycled polyester. Therefore, when ‘green claims‘are made in a sector, the question of false advertising arises.

European ban on false advertising for sustainable materials

False advertising is classified by European law as an unfair market practice and is prohibited. A market practice is considered misleading when it contains false information and statements. Advertising is also considered to be misleading if it misleads or is likely to mislead the average consumer as to the main characteristics of the product (such as its benefits, composition or process) influencing the consumer’s decision to make a purchase that he does not want. otherwise would not have done, even if the information is factually correct.

The ” Compliance criteria on environmental claims,‘published in 2016, requires market players to present their environmental claims in a precise, precise and unambiguous manner. In order to comply with these criteria, advertisements for environmental claims must avoid vague wording or, in the case of general wording, sufficiently substantiated claims.

In practice, an advertisement for supposedly sustainable fashion items must contain the following information:

  • The words “made with recycled materials” must be clear and clearly visible;
  • The trader must be able to prove that the entire product, with the exception of minor secondary components, is made from recycled materials;
  • In general, the recycled material should make the product more environmentally friendly, creating an overall environmental benefit;
  • The context of the ad does not imply any other misleading claims.

In addition, companies must be prepared to provide scientific evidence in a clear manner if a claim is challenged.

Possible solution: the European certification mark

One possible solution for this is a certification mark. A certification mark is a mark that indicates a certain characteristic of products or services of different companies. It usually takes the form of an agreement between a group of industry participants and ensures that the goods or services meet a certain standard, regardless of which company produces the goods or services. By analogy, “Fairtrade”, a label that allows consumers to easily identify products whose ingredients are fair trade.

In the context of the fashion industry, the merit of a certification mark could therefore be to reassure consumers that certain garments are truly environmentally friendly or have certain clearly verifiable ecological characteristics. However, to date, such a guarantee or certification mark is not yet available in Belgium. In Germany, the first pilot project of the German authorities to award a “Grüner Knopt” for textile products meeting certain social and environmental requirements was launched in September 2019.


In anticipation of a possible certification mark, industrial players in the European Union would do well to provide more information on the qualities they promise. Consumers, for their part, are urged to remain vigilant and critical of promising advertisements. To this end, they may already rely on existing organizations or applications (such as “Good on You” and “Store a Brand”) that educate consumers about, among other things, the green efforts of certain fashion brands.

This post originally appeared in FashionUnited.

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