H&M’s 2019 “Conscious Collection” promotional images juxtapose lush green gardens with a hazy city skyline in the background. The collection, which advertises itself as “[t]he short cut to sustainable choices,” is just one example of many fashion brands’ attempts to capitalize on the increased demand for sustainable products. Each year, the fashion industry consumes approximately ninety-three billion cubic meters of water and produces an estimated ten percent of the world’s carbon emissions. The environmental effects of the fashion industry can be seen in images of the dried up Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and in the dye and chemical filled black rivers of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing districts.
Fashion brands should be encouraged to reduce their impact on the environment but there is little oversight over the environmental claims they advertise. The burden of verifying the legitimacy of these environmental claims falls on the consumer. Case in point: in 2019, Norway’s Consumer Authority found that H&M’s sustainability and environmental benefit claims were not sufficiently explained by the brand and were misleading. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) occupies an analogous role of taking action against brands that advertise false or misleading claims. However, the closest the FTC has come to addressing greenwashing and unsubstantiated environmental benefit claims in the fashion industry was a series actions against retailers for marketing rayon fiber products as bamboo.
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