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Earth Month – How Retailers Can Avoid Greenwashing

What your brand can do this year instead of launching another rPET capsule collection.

It’s no secret that the fashion industry has taken over Earth Day. Originally, April 22nd was a grassroots movement to help combat environmental pollution. Now it’s an excuse to push new collections branded as “sustainable.” 

However, as the climate crisis accelerates, consumers are waking up to performative marketing. Combined with regulations emerging in the UK and EU to quell greenwashing, the event will see a return to its activist roots. Retailers will have no choice but to get on board to enact real change or risk being viewed as inauthentic.

This report analyzes the key themes from Earth Day and Month campaigns last year and direction for the event in 2023.

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Direction & Early Trends for 2023

Avoid Capsule Ranges and New Product Drops

Customers no longer respond well to products marketed under vague labels such as ‘green,’ as evidenced last year when H&M and ASOS removed their respective “conscious choice” and “responsible” edits. Dropping dedicated styles for Earth Month is counterproductive. If you’re planning to promote products during this time, look to communicate items already available and with a seasonless appeal, or take cues from resale platforms and brands such as Levi’s, that are drawing attention to pre-loved goods already in circulation.

Be Transparent About Progress or Lack Of

This year will see mounted pressure on brands to avoid greenwashing and greenhushing, themes that are historically rife around Earth Month. Several retailers including Reformation and Nobody’s Child, use April to update consumers on their sustainability goals and progress. If taking this route, enlist a third-party company to audit your efforts to avoid data bias. Celebrate your progress and wins, but be transparent and share what areas need improvement.

Keep People in Mind

This is not an event to promote overconsumption, so bypass offering discounts in Earth Month communications. Instead, explore donations for organizations that amplify the voices of garment workers and climate justice in the Global South. Get involved with Fashion Revolution Week or support charities such as Clean Clothes Campaign, World Land Trust, Canopy and other non-profits that align with your brand’s values.  

Have an Emission Reduction Action Plan

Despite the fanfare of big-name brands committing to halve their CO2 footprint by 2030, the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action signatories are falling short on commitments, and most have increased emissions YoY. This was a key talking point at the COP27 summit, calling for retailers to rethink the way they work for 2023 and outline measures that will be taken, alongside strategies to keep the conversation going outside of April.

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Lessons From 2022

  • Though most emails were sent on Earth Day (April 22nd), mentions of the event throughout April fell 22% YoY, with retailers rethinking their strategies to avoid being viewed as performative.
  • Instead, a year-round approach to the event has been noted in line with the theme “Earth Day is every day.” This is evident with mentions of sustainability in emails from January to April increasing 6% YoY and retailers’ efforts to be transparent by sharing sustainable goals and milestones. 
  • Capsule collections were introduced at River Island, Vans, Lululemon and Guess, while Selfridges, Everlane and Kohl’s promoted curated edits of eco products already ranged. Secondhand clothing saw a big push this year from Levi’s, while resale platforms promoted tips for sustainable living.
  • Donations were centered around combatting deforestation. Retailers need to keep in mind nonprofits that work to protect People of Color who are most at risk of the climate emergency – look to Fashion Revolution, Slow Factory, The Environmental Justice Foundation, The Solutions Project and organizations that reflect your brand’s values.
  • Above all, retailers need to constantly build on their sustainability efforts and use Earth Day 2023 to share progress instead of waiting for the event to do good for one day. 

Major Themes

  • Invest in our Planet
  • Earth Day is Every Day
  • Brand Updates
  • Sustainability Goals

Standout Stories

  • Fashion Revolution Week
  • Shop Secondhand
  • Defining Sustainability
  • Education
  • Minimizing Waste
  • Extending Product Life
  • Eco Fabrics
  • Capsule Collections
  • Eco Product Edits
  • Meet the Makers
  • Spotlight Eco Brands
  • Sales

Donations & Charity Initiatives

  • Arbor Day Foundation
  • Canopy
  • World Land Trust
  • Leaf Coalition
  • IAMWILD
  • One Tree Planted

Timing

Axel Arigato was the first to communicate Earth Month for 2022 on January 7th, as part of its New Year’s resolutions email underscoring its sustainability efforts. This was two weeks earlier than 2021’s first email. Other early mentions included Levi’s promoting its Vintage Project Survival collection inspired by the grassroots movement that led to the first Earth Day in 1970 on February 17th, and Nike promoting its Move to Zero initiative a month out of the event.

Earth Day on April 22nd remained the day the most emails were scheduled. However, throughout the month, mentions of the event fell 22% YoY, with greenwashing crackdowns causing retailers to avoid marketing strategies that could be seen as performative. Instead, there was more of a focus on eco-communications throughout the year. Emails centered on sustainability rose 6% between January and April YoY.

“Happy Earth Day” and “Celebrate Earth Day” were the most popular email subject lines. Retailers also leveraged emails to communicate planet-friendly products and used subject lines to promote sustainable categories.

2022 email subject lines:

  • Apr 11 – Everlane – Your dream handbag is also Earth-friendly.
  • Apr 22 – Salomon – Recyclable shoes for earth day
  • Apr 22- Pier 1 – World Earth Day Savings Up To 85%
  • Apr 22- Burberry – Celebrating Earth Day, Today And Beyond
  • Apr 22 – Free People – Mother Nature approved tees

Take note – Earth Day will fall on Sunday, April 22nd in 2023.

Tillys Email US – Apr 10, 2022

Retailer Spotlight

Selfridges

Coinciding with Earth Day, Selfridges opened a four-week pop-up in its Oxford Street store to showcase innovation and sustainable materials, with a 3D printing machine as the main attraction. On the 22nd, it sent out an email inviting customers to shop by its Project Earth categories: For Nature, For Vegans, For Animals, and For Communities.

Selfridges Email UK – Apr 22, 2022

Patagonia

Patagonia made no mentions of Earth Month this year, though it used the 22nd to communicate the sustainable efforts baked into its brand. Via email, it promoted its new film Newtok which raises awareness about the rising water levels that threaten to displace the Yup’ik residents in Alaska.

Patagonia Email US – Apr 22, 2022