Greenpeace: Detoxing the Fashion Industry



Greenpeace is demanding a detox of the fashion variety. Through its Detox Campaign, the organization is calling on the fashion world to pick up the mantle for a toxic-free future.

In 2011, when the campaign was launched, Greenpeace was focused on raising awareness of the link between designers, suppliers, and water pollution. So far, eighteen brands have committed to eliminating toxic waste released during the production process. The brands are: Nike, Adidas, Puma, H&M, M&S, C&A, Li-Ning, Zara, Mango, Esprit, Levi’s, Uniqlo, Benetton, Victoria’s Secret, G-Star Raw Valentino, Coop, and Canepa.

In addition to surging brand interest, the campaign has expanded since 2011. Other initiatives are now nestled under its greater umbrella, including The Fashion Manifesto, and reports like Detox Catwalk and Toxic Threads. The Manifesto has been signed by models, bloggers, designers, and other forces in the fashion industry. It calls for immediate action by brands and suppliers; greater industry transparency; and honesty. The reports are investigative work by Greenpeace. Detox Catwalk examines the progress of brands who have committed the label to sustainability, and Toxic Threads is a research report, identifying hazardous chemicals in the garments produced by top clothing manufacturers.

Printed in 2012, the latter tested 141 garments, from 20 brands and determined some pieces had a cocktail of chemicals stitched into the fabric. As a result, when consumers wash their clothing, they unknowingly and unwillingly add toxicity to water. Out of all the garments tested, 89 came back positive for NPEs. NPEs, or nonylphenol ethoxylates, have been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (or, EPA) as potentially harmful to human health. However, the agency explains the greater risk is posed to wildlife and aquatic life.

“NPEs are nonionic surfactants that are used in a wide variety of industrial applications and consumer products,” the EPA said in its 2010 Action Plan. It added that NPEs “are also highly toxic to aquatic organisms, and in the environment degrade to more environmentally persistent” Nonylphenols (or, NPs). The EPA had already determined NPEs needed to be removed from laundry detergent because of detrimental effects to the environmental. The agency said more work needed to be done because “NPEs are still widely used in large quantities in industrial laundry detergents and have some additional uses that lead to releases to water.”

Greenpeace revisited the issue, undertaking  a related research project in May and June of 2013. The focus this time was on children’s clothing, and the result was similar. NPEs, and other chemicals, showed up again, in “fast fashion” brands like H&M, as well as in luxury retailer’s threads, like Burberry. The report was published in early January, and examined 82 pieces of children’s clothing, bought in 25 different countries.

H&M has pledged to create more sustainable fashion, and a number of projects have been undertaken by the company to do so. Even though articles tested in both studies came back positive, Greenpeace’s Catwalk Report identified the company as a “leader” for promising to phase out eleven different chemicals and enhancing transparency. Other leaders identified were: Benetton, C&A, Coop, Esprit, G-Star Raw, H&M, Inditex, Levi’s, Limited Brands, Mango, M&S, Puma, Fast Retailing, and Valentino.

Adidas, Lining, and Nike were all identified as “greenwashers,” brands that pay lip service to the idea of sustainability without taking action, or backing up their claims. Finally, the label “laggards” was applied to Giorgio Armani, Bestseller, Diesel, Gap, Meters/bonwe, PVH, and Vancl for not taking steps to sustainability.

Greenpeace and others calling for more sustainable fashion realize the results will not be immediate. The reports and rankings of brands highlights companies that are making progress, and introducing accountability to the equation. The organization is raising awareness of issues in the fashion industry, but also preventing brands from jumping on the bandwagon of sustainability to appeal to customers.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: