For example, while exploring the “Community Engagement” selection, I found several brands under a Bcorp called Australian Brands Alliance (Chancery, Tussah, The Fated, BWLDR, Calli, Willa) with all the brands claiming 187 trees planted per month to offset their emissions.
A quick browse brought up mostly garments made of synthetic materials in trendy styles.
Then let’s talk about tree planting for a minute.
While planting trees is generally a good idea, it has its drawbacks when used by commercial businesses to offset emissions. Critics have called tree planting exercises ‘a clever accounting trick and greenwashing, one that enable companies to continue ‘business as usual’ while appealing to customers.
Some companies may be tempted into complacency because planting trees enables them to claim carbon neutrality while making little meaningful change in their business.
“Planting trees enables companies to claim carbon neutrality while making little meaningful change in their business.”
My pet peeve is, tree planting can often be used as a marketing tool to spur more spending and overconsumption, with consumers believing they are ‘doing good’ by making a purchase. The fact is planting trees do not remove or neutralize the harm that has already been caused by production. Trees capture carbon and are often planted somewhere else in the world.
It is not a straightforward debit/credit system.
Furthermore, trees do not grow overnight, so planting exercises do not realize their full carbon credit for many years, while the carbon impact is incurred immediately. Don’t get me wrong, I love tree planting as much as the next person. It does a lot of good and has been a great conversation starter in the sustainability movement for many businesses. But it doesn’t stop there.
Brands like Patagonia are not afraid of championing anti-consumerist messaging. Their products are built to last, and Patagonia provides free repair for their products post-sale with their Ironclad Guarantee. Patagonia is bold and persistent in integrating sustainability into the heart of their business, giving us the full weight of the term ‘business for good’.
And for naysayers who claim going green hurts businesses and puts them at a disadvantage, think again. Patagonia’s business has grown to a billion-dollar company, raking in $1 billion in sales annually..
Admittedly, Patagonia and many other ethical brands set a high bar and are further on in their sustainability journey (though they too are not perfect and have room to grow).
We should expect high ethical standards from businesses, and we need to continue to push the fashion industry to improve across the board. It’s not easy, but it is well worth pursuing, for the sake of our planet, its people and all living things.
So making a donation with each purchase on a fast fashion item should not be a standard we celebrate too quickly, especially when it has now been used pervasively as a marketing gimmick by countless brands, small and large.