Article by Centre for Sustainable Fashion | Monica Buchan-Ng | 02.08.2022

Part 2 | How to talk about sustainability: a guide for brand communications

How can brands create communications that not only avoid greenwashing, but help to improve sustainability practices? The first of our two-part series looked at what greenwashing and environmental claims actually are, referencing a recent publication from the UK’s Competition and Market Authority (CMA) – their Guidance on Environmental Claims on Goods and Services

We’ve re-framed their six guiding principles as a series of critical questions for you to use when developing brand communications such as press releases, strategies or reports, public events, product or service launches, campaigns, manifestos or statements of intent, social media content, and so on.  

A. Claims must be truthful and accurate.  

“Claims… must only give consumers the impression that a product, service, process, brand or business is as green and sustainable as it really is.”4  

  • Does your business live up to the environmental claim you’re making? Is the company’s sustainability work rigorous enough to communicate? 

  • Do the facts speak for themselves, or do you feel that you might need to build more of a story to make it ‘worth’ communicating about? 

  • Will visual materials or assets (like logos, imagery or videos) add to the impression that the product/service/brand is environmentally beneficial? If so, is it doing so in a way that’s consistent with the facts, or is it enhancing the environmental claim in any way?   

  • Are the environmental benefits a legal requirement, industry standard, or necessary feature of a product? If so, do you feel this is enough to communicate about? 


B. Claims must be clear and unambiguous. 

“Claims should be worded in a way which is transparent and straightforward so consumers can easily understand them.” 5 

  • What does sustainability mean to you? What does it mean to your company? How can you communicate this to your audience? 

  • Will your communications piece use sustainability terms? If so, make sure you’re using them accurately (and if relevant, educating the reader on their meanings as well). The Sustainable Fashion Glossary is a useful tool to ensure common terms (like recyclability, carbon neutral, and regenerative) are used in a manner consistent with industry best practice, and are clear, well-referenced and correctly cited.  

  • Is there anything in your piece that feels vague, generalising or not clearly defined – like ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’? Will readers be able to accurately understand the environmental claim you’re making? 

  • Is your piece communicating about future intentions or targets? If so, is there a rigorous sustainability strategy to ensure your company can viably deliver on these goals? 

  • If you’re launching a more sustainable edit, product or collection (for example a ‘conscious collection’ or a ‘green style’, how can you ensure maximum engagement with the criteria behind it? Where’s the most visible place to publish this information, and what external standards is it based on? 


C. Claims must not omit or hide important relevant information. 

“What claims don’t say can also influence the decisions consumers make. Claims made by businesses must not omit or hide information that consumers need to make informed choices.”6 

  • What do you think your audiences need to know in order to make informed choices about your products, services or brand?  

  • Are you telling your audience about the whole picture – including any negative environmental impacts? Are you comfortable with sharing the bad alongside the good?  

  • Is your claim only relevant to a particular aspect of a product, service or brand (for example packaging or a denim wash)? Do you make this clear to your audience? 

  • Where do you currently publish sustainability communications (e.g. product labels, social media, paid advertising)? Are these the most visible and appropriate channels? 

  • Do you feel that some information is better to exclude because it’s too technical to share with audiences, and might be overwhelming? If so, what are the ways you can make it more accessible for them to understand? Is there a place you can publish this content (like a dedicated webpage) for more knowledgeable audiences? 

  • Do you make it easy for audiences to find sustainability information?  

D. Comparisons must be fair and meaningful.  

“It is important that consumers are not misled by the way comparative claims are made…They should not benefit one product or brand to the detriment of another if the comparison is inaccurate or false.”7  

  • Why are you making a comparison? Is it to gain a competitive advantage, sell a product or service, increase the reputation of your brand, or educate your audience? How do you think this influences the communications piece? 

  • Are you comparing like for like? Is your environmental claim calculated in the same way as the comparison? Is your product, service or brand similar enough to compare? 

  • Are you making a comparison to an industry average? If so, who is the source of this information? Do they have any motivations that may have influenced the research? (For example, a lifecycle assessment of the environmental impacts of real vs faux fur may have different outcomes depending on whether a fur trade collective or animal rights activists commissioned the study.) 

  • Do you know enough about a competitor’s environmental claims to make an accurate comparison? 


E. Claims must consider the full life cycle of the product or service. 

“In considering whether a claim could be misleading, the full life cycle of the product or service, and the whole of a business’s activities, may be relevant. All aspects of a product’s or service’s environmental impact over its life cycle, including its supply chain, could be important.”8  

  • What are the lifecycle stages involved in the product or service you’re communicating about? For fashion products, this usually includes raw materials (farming or extraction); textiles production and processing; design; product manufacture; transport and logistics; point of sale; use; and end of life (disposal or re-use). For services like rental or resale, other stages such as cleaning or sorting may be relevant. 

  • Have all the lifecycle stages been considered in the environmental impact or claim you’re making? 

  • If you’ve done a lifecycle assessment, will any limitations also be communicated to your audience? 

  • If you’re making claims about one particular stage, is this made clear to your audience? Are you sharing the whole picture with them – including any stages with a significantly negative environmental impact? 

  • How can you help educate your audiences about their role in the use and end-of-life stages? Can your communications encourage them to lessen the environmental impact of your products or services? 


F. Claims must be substantiated. 

“Most environmental claims are likely to be objective or factual claims that can be tested against scientific or other evidence. Given the requirement that claims must be truthful and accurate, businesses should have evidence to support them.”9 

  • What measures, performance indicators, criteria, scientific or industry standards have been used in your brand’s sustainability work? Are these widely recognised as best practice? What criticisms do they face? 

  • Are you being subjective or objective in your claims? How would an outsider talk about your sustainability work? 

  • What evidence can you show in relation to your environmental claims? Is this evidence scientifically or externally backed up? Is it up to date? Is it independently verified? 

  • Is your evidence based on any assumptions? If so, have these been made clear to your audience? 

  • Can you publish your evidence? Can your audience independently verify the claims you’re making? 

Key takeaways

As environmental awareness increases alongside the pressure of mitigating the climate crisis, the way we talk about fashion and sustainability is more important than ever. Brands have a significant role to play in this, using communications to educate their audiences and themselves, push for change internally, and evaluate what’s really worth sharing. How will your work shape the sustainability discourse? How will the language you use, the images you create, or the conversation you facilitate help to accelerate sustainability agendas? What do you want to talk about with your audiences – and what do you want to change?  

If you want to keep reading about this topic, check out the following resources: