Should retailers keep brands honest on their public commitments?
A new online retailer is going a long way to keep the brands it sells honest about their avowed commitments to environmental and social issues.
Toward, a luxury platform that sells fashion and beauty brands, launched earlier this month and requires brands that it sells to go through a rigorous vetting process, according to Adweek. Brands must pass a 100-question exam that assesses their commitment to their stated brand values. The platform furthermore curates product based on social commitments, allowing customers to filter companies along criteria like commitment to workers rights, responsible water usage, minority-owned status, vegan product availability and low waste production.
The Toward platform is meant to allow beauty customers to differentiate between brands with authentic environmental and social commitments and those engaged, at least as regards their environmental stances, in “greenwashing.”
Greenwashing, a term used to describe companies that fail to back up the commitments they make to environmental stewardship with real action, has become a frequent point of criticism as environmental awareness has grown in popularity with consumers.
In the beauty segment, greenwashing has become a hot button issue. Some companies are called out for displaying images on packaging that could mislead customers into believing a product contains “natural” ingredients, according to Real Simple. Part of the problem may be that the beauty industry in the U.S. is largely unregulated.
Concerns about greenwashing have grown elsewhere in retail as well.
A survey from June of 2021 from clean manufacturer Genomatica found that, in the fashion vertical, 88 percent of consumers say they do not immediately trust brands’ claims of sustainability and 51 percent believe greenwashing is common in the fashion world. Half of respondents said labeling to identify which clothing is sustainable would help them choose products.
Grocery has long experienced a similar concern, with consumer packaged goods companies cited for misleadingly marketing highly processed foods as “health food” through the use of undefined terms like “natural.” While the label “organic” has a specific meaning set out by the United States Department of Agriculture, the term “natural” has no specific regulatory meaning and does not speak to any guidelines adhered to during the making of the product.
- Consumers Are Wary of Misleading Brand Claims, So This Retailer Is Doing Some Fact-Checking – Adweek
- How do retailers and brands overcome consumers’ green skepticism? – RetailWire
- What is greenwashing? – Real Simple
- Ask UConn Extension: What Do the Food Labels “Organic,” “Natural,” and “Non-GMO” Actually Mean? – Uconn Today
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see the enhanced level of vetting for social and environmental responsibility claims that Toward is implementing as being something that will set it apart? Do you see other retailers or online marketplaces taking similar steps in the years to come?