Corporate greenwashing: Is that big business as environmentally friendly as it seems?

AND post on Twitter claims that the popular clothing retailer H&M is doing something called greenwashing.

“I find it … astonishing how a company like H&M would resort to ‘greenwashing’ … it’s like lying, isn’t it?,” the tweet read.

Is there any truth to this? Why is H&M accused of greenwashing? And what is greenwashing anyway?

Here’s how we checked it.

Search by keywords

First we searched the keywords “what is greenwashing” and “fact checking” and found this article from AFP. It said greenwashing is a form of marketing that “makes companies appear more climate friendly than they really are”.

It’s akin to pink washing. Then companies promote Pride Month in their marketing materials while supporting anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and candidates.

In greenwashing, the company stretches the truth about how environmentally friendly they are. They might claim to use recycled materials or to produce more sustainable clothing. They might say they’re reducing water use in production or diverting materials from landfills – when they’re not.

In any case, companies do it to make money or to look good. But why is H&M, a fast fashion company based in Sweden, being accused of being green?

Reading upstream

The tweet contained a screenshot but no link to the post from ESG today, an environmental business publication. So we practiced the media literacy tip of reading upstream — or going directly to the source by doing a keyword search to find the original article. The article states that H&M had exaggerated its claims about sustainable fashion.

Another article from Forbes it focuses on specifics. Here’s just one: H&M claimed to use 30% less water to make its products when in fact it used 30% more.

H&M is not the only company involved in the production of clothing. Other popular retailers such as Zara, Pretty Little Thing and Shein have also been accused of greenwashing, mostly in their efforts to launch resale platforms that exaggerate the sustainability of used clothing.

A few tips

What can we as consumers do to spot greenwashing? Article from BBC news advises seven tips on how to spot it, including:

  1. Our MediaWise tried and true tip: read sideways. Try to find another credible source that supports the manufacturer’s claims.
  2. Be careful with “green” buzzwords like “eco,” “sustainable,” and “green.” These words “are commonly used by companies to make business appear environmentally conscious, but rarely refer to any scientific standards,” says the BBC.
  3. Check the company’s ownership. Sometimes larger companies with questionable environmental practices buy smaller companies that target environmentally conscious customers. Google the company name and “owned” or “affiliated brands.” Do some research and determine the company’s overall environmental impact.


Context is needed. Based on the evidence we reviewed, we can rate the original tweet accusing H&M of greenwashing as “necessary context”. While the company may have overstated its sustainable fashion claims, it has since agreed to put clearer markings on his clothes or remove them entirely.

ATTENTION TEACHERS: This fact check is in the free, one-hour lesson plan about companies that “greenwash” and how to spot it. The lesson is available through PBS LearningMedia and includes a lesson summary and handout, among other resources.

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