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Archive for April, 2011

First order of business – let’s put an end to the top three misconceptions about eco-fashion. Eco-clothing doesn’t mean you have to wear lettuce. Your wardrobe will not be primarily green or earth tones. Lastly, it will not have the style of a burlap sack. In fact, eco-clothing can be extremely fashionable.

Eco-Fashion Week

Styles from the first eco-friendly fashion week in Portland, Oregon.

Admittedly new to eco-fashion myself, I have set out to decipher the intracacies of the industry. How can an industry that sustains itself on transforming a “want” to a “need” be environmentally friendly?

According to STEP (The Sustainable Technology Education Project) eco-fashion clothes:

  • Are made using organic raw materials
  • Don’t involve the use of harmful chemicals or bleach to color fabrics
  • Are often made from recycled or reused textiles
  • Are made to last, so people use them longer
  • Come from fair trade

What triggered this investigation was the recent launch of H&M’s advertising campaign for their ‘Conscious Collection.’ My initial reaction was a fit of excitement that eco-clothing was going mainstream. The line features items for men, women and children made from environmentally-adapted and greener materials, such as organic cotton, Tencel and recycled polyester. Even more exciting, the collection stays consistent with H&M’s record of affordability.

However, my research quickly uncovered that H&M’s recent sustainable actions might be just as much of a strategic PR move as they are an environmentally conscious effort. In January 2010, H&M came under media scrutiny for reportedly destroying and dumping unused merchandise in the street. The New York Times reported that bags of unworn, cut clothing were found outside of the 35th St. store in New York City.

Lily Cole - Save the Future Campaign

Lily Cole in the Save the Future Campaign

Why might a store destroy and dump it’s merchandise, you might ask? The industry’s attitude towards waste is reflected in comments made by managing director of the clothing label, Lyle & Scott, when suggesting he would rather ‘burn’ the company’s excess stock than recycle it or give it to charity. Many companies don’t want to diminish their ‘brand’ by selling their merchandise at a discount, or further by giving it away.

British model and eco-designer, Lily Cole, recently addressed the oxymoronic nature of ethical fashion to Guardian Newspaper in the UK. She pointed out that the cyclic nature of fashion is inherently wasteful. The industry is built around fast turnover, consumerism and constant trends. However, eco-fashion provides a way to grow the industry in a sustainable and ethical way.

Textile waste is not a new concern. In fact, it has been building up in in landfills for decades, with 1.2 million tons in the UK alone. The chemicals used to process textiles can release harmful toxins into the environment when decomposing. Producing these fashion trends also consumes valuable resources. One company estimated that it takes as much as 8,000 liters of water to grow the cotton for just one pair of jeans. So, think twice before throwing that denim in the trash.

Fashion is a great avenue of self-expression. So, why not express that you care for the environment? Oh, and you’ll look good too.

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Three things you can expect in April: the Easter Bunny, rain and a heap of green advertising. The 2011 Earth Day celebration will take place on April 22nd and will bring out the best in organizations promoting their most creative green strides. It is also a time when PR professionals are expected to promote and communicate green initiatives, even if they have no environmental familiarity.Earth Day 2011

In order to communicate effectively, professionals must reconcile environmental jargon, complex issues, such as global warming, and their organization’s relationship with environmental regulations. Inability to consider these concepts can hinder the communication of the message and make a company susceptible to greenwashing criticism. The capitalist temptation to generate profit from Earth Day marketing can also pose the threat of greenwashing backlash.

The New York Times summarized the problem saying, “So strong was the anti-busines sentiment for the First Earth Day in 1970 that organizer’s took no money from corporations and held teach-ins ‘to challenge corporate and government leaders’…Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services, like office products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry.”

The slew of green marketing begs the question – are organizations simply doing good or capitalizing on it? I can think of various holidays that allow companies to make a buck, but eco-minded consumers and the planet should not be exploited. The best campaigns raise awareness rather than capitalize on the opportunity by offering environmental incentives with a purchase. However, there are some organizations that have learned to perfect this balance.

The Earth Day Nice List:

  1.  Starbucks – When you bring a travel cup into your local Starbucks on April 22nd, you will receive free coffee or tea. This promotion encourages less paper and plastic consumption, while complimenting Starbuck’s continuous environmental responsibility.
  2. Target – You could win the ‘Refresh Your Nest’ sweepstakes and receive a $50,000 sustainable home makeover. Also, the stores are highlighting green products during the entire month of April.
  3. IKEA – The IKEA store in Tempe, Arizona is offering free breakfast and a T-shirt to anyone who bikes to work or school on April 22nd. In addition, by bringing your used plastic bags into the store you will receive a free reusable shopping bag.

While commitment to sustainability goes beyond being green for one day, Earth Day offers a global opportunity to stop and think about how your organization affects the environment, and the steps that you can take to become more environmentally responsible.

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