In this article, we are going to unravel the concepts of Greenwashing and greenhushing, the 2 buzzing words that are driving the fashion industry crazy.

In the last year, we have seen central players within the textile and fashion industry being accused of greenwashing. Accusations that have drawn some of the most attention include the Norwegian Consumer Agency’s (NCA) decision to ban the use of the Higg Index in consumer-facing marketing, followed by Zalando winning the NCA’s Greenwashing Award for the use of sustainability filters on its platform. While greenwashing accusations are not unheard of in the textile and fashion industry, the more recent ones have highlighted fundamental issues regarding the industry's challenges when it comes to the use of data and related sustainability claims.

What does Greenwashing mean?

Before we discuss what all of this might mean, let us look into the meaning of greenwashing. In the academic literature, greenwashing is generally understood as the act of misleading people into having a positive view of the environmental performance of an organization or the products that this organization offers (Delmas and Burbano, 2011; Lyon and Montgomery, 2015).

While greenwashing can take many forms and can cover everything from the selective use of vague sustainability claims to sheer lies about the sustainability of a product or an organization, what characterizes greenwashing is that it does not happen by mistake. Greenwashing is something that an organization does on purpose to deceive its stakeholders. Maybe you have also heard of related terms such as SDG-dressing and blue washing, which concern more specific types of greenwashing. In these cases, a misuse of the SDGs and the United Nations Global Compact respectively. When we talk about greenwashing it is also important to remember that there is always an accuser and someone being accused. The fact that each party has a specific agenda, also the one accusing, is something to keep in mind.

Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash

And what then, is the meaning of Greenhushing?

As an antidote to greenwashing, you might have heard of the term greenhushing or green blushing, which is understood as cases in which companies under-communicate their environmental performance on purpose (Falchi et al., 2022). Another term also used to talk about under-reporting is the term “strategic silence”. There might be different reasons for a company to adopt a strategy of greenhusing, but fear of being accused of greenwashing surely is one reason to not talk too much about their own performance.

Greenhushing - and some of the other types of greenwashing it's related to the problems the fashion industry is facing when trying to adopt sustainable practises.

Why does it matter?

Why do we now see these accusations of greenwashing? Why are they drawing attention and what might they be good for (or not)?

In recent years we have seen an ever-increasing use of the term sustainability within the textile and fashion industry. More and more brands, including international fast fashion brands, release sustainability reports annually. For more than a decade, “organic” has been used in consumer-facing communication to convey some sort of responsible production and in recent years we have seen a great increase in brands’ use of words such as sustainable, recycled materials, conscious, and many more. Clearly, an increasing number of fashion brands understand that sustainability is something that they need to take a stand on, and some also see it as a competitive advantage.

Please note that we’re not trying to say that these are all attempts at greenwashing. In fact, far from it. In many cases, companies have probably been trying their best to find better and more sustainable solutions. However, the use of the term sustainable in the context of an industry that year by year uses more resources and produces more waste seems, at best, slightly paradoxical.

Photo by Skyler Ewin

a case study: The Higg Index methodology

Let us take a closer look at the cases of the Higg Index and Zalando already mentioned. These examples are closely tied to the question of how to account for sustainability. The Higg Index suite of tools and the Higg Co, its technology partner, is owned by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). NCA’s decision to ban the use of the Higg Index in consumer-facing marketing concerns several issues including the Higg Index’s strong ties to the industry and lack of transparency in the underlying data (Shendrunk, 2022). NCA argues that the quality of the data that the Higg system uses for measuring sustainability is neither correct nor representative. NCA is not alone in questioning the industry’s widespread use of certification schemes. According to Vogue Business, the Higg Index controversy exposes deep cracks in fashion’s sustainability efforts (Cernansky, 2022).

Looking into ten of the most common certification schemes, The Changing Markets Foundation concludes: “As the fashion industry is one of the least regulated sectors in the world, these schemes partially exist as a genuine attempt to move towards sustainability in the absence of environmental legislation. But they also enable the proliferation of ‘greenwashing’ on a remarkable scale.” (p. 9, 2022).

When we speak of sustainability claims, questions of the quality of data and who collects that data become essential, as do questions of what models we use to evaluate that data. Depending on each of these variables, we can get very different values on the same items. Thus, while certifications and measurements indicate objectivity, the NCA’s ban of the Higg Index in consumer-facing marketing highlights that these schemes are the result of a wide range of choices and non-choices that are far from objective.

Following this, Zalando, the European leading marketplace, won the not-so-prestigious Greenwashing Award because of its use of “sustainability” filters on its platform. The reason is that the sustainability score of a product was generated by drawing in the Higg Index. As a consequence, Zalando stopped using the filter in its consumer-facing communication.

Building on the recent focus on the textile and fashion industry’s practice of misleading people, we have also seen increasing criticism against the role of the fashion media in the industry’s lack of change towards practicing sustainability. This critique comes from scholars, but also from fashion journalists (e.g. Sorgenfrey, 2023; Tone Skårdal Tobiasson, and Bret Mathews) and brand owners. In a recent piece in Apparel Insider Kristin Fanarakis, Founder and creative director of Senza Tempo, writes: “In fashion, the media reports on various tech innovations because it believes that’s what the public wants. This ultimately creates a smokescreen helping brands avoid substantive change. Buzzwords like: recycle, resale, regenerative agriculture, circular, organic, etc mask the lack of progress.” One might argue that this current focus on various tech innovations and new materials is not only misleading consumers but also brands that wish to do better. While various innovations might support such efforts, it is important that sustainability transformation starts with the business model.

The need for business model transformation

Arguably, greenwashing accusations are not necessarily changing things for the better. As mentioned, it might even make companies adopt a strategy of greenhushing, being afraid of talking about and sharing the good things that they do. With the overall goal of creating more sustainable business models in the fashion industry, not being able to talk about your sustainability efforts in an honest and transparent manner is also hugely problematic, as we are in urgent need of honest and transparent business model innovation and knowledge sharing (Falchi, 2022; GFA, 2023).

The recent work of the NCA has brought a much-needed discussion to the table that hopefully will help us all get a better understanding of how we can create more sustainable practices, especially by bringing attention to the quality of the data that we work with. While not all sustainability transformation needs detailed data (for example, we all know that good quality clothing that fits, is being used and lasts is better for the environment), it is both valuable and extremely interesting to get a better understanding of the impact of the choices we make.


Cernansky, R. (2022). Higg Index controversy exposes deep cracks in fashion’s sustainability efforts. Vogue Business, July 7.

Delmas M.A, & Burbano, V.C. (2011), The Drivers of Greenwashing. California Management Review, Vol. 54, No. 1, pp. 64-87. doi:10.1525/cmr.2011.54.1.64

Changing Markets Foundation (2022). License to Greenwash: How Certification Schemes and Voluntary Initiatives Are Fueling Fossil Fashion. Retrieved from:

Falchi, A., Grolleau, G., and Mzoughi, N. (2022). Why companies might under-communicate their efforts for sustainable development and what can be done? Business Strategy and Environment, 31(5), 1938-1946

Fanarakis, K. (2023). Viewpoint: the media’s role in sustainable fashion. Apparel Insider. Retrieved February 14, 2023:

Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) (2023). Demystifying Greenwashing, Greenwishing & Greenhushing. Retrieved February 14th, 2023:

Klepp, I., Laitala, K., Haugrønning, V., Sigaard, A. S. and Tobiasson, T. (2022). The fate of natural fibres in environmental evaluation: A question of volume. In Klepp, I. and Tobiasson, T. (Editors) Local, Slow and Sustainable Fashion: Wool as a Fabric for Change. Palgrave MacMillian, pp. 35-60.

Lyon T.P, & Montgomery, A.W. (2015), The Means and End of Greenwash. Organization & Environment, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 223-249. doi:10.1177/1086026615575332

Mathews, B. (2022) Zalando to remove Higg filter after winning greenwashing award. Apparel Insider. Retrieved February 6, 2023:

Shendrunk, A. (2022). The controversial way fashion brands gauge sustainability is being suspended. Quartz. Retrieved July 10th, 2022:

Sorgenfrey, M. L. (2023) Der er brug for flere journalister og medier, der går modefolket efter i sømmene. Journalisten. Retrieved February 14, 2023: