Specialization Management in the Digital Age
Social Media as a Tool to Educate Consumers on Greenwashing in the Fashion Industry
By Kristina Polakova
Supervisor Mr. Robert Bwana
Statement of Originality
This document is written by Student Kristina Polakova who declares to take full responsibility for the contents of this document.
I declare that the text and the work presented in this document are original and that no sources other than those mentioned in the text and its references have been used in creating it.
UvA Economics and Business is responsible solely for the supervision of completion of the work, not for the contents.
Table of Content
1.Introduction ... 1
2.Theoretical Framework ... 3
2.1 Theoretical Framework on Fast Fashion & Sustainability Issues ... 3
2.2 Theoretical Framework on Sustainability ... 5
2.3 Theoretical Framework on Greenwashing ... 6
2.4 Theoretical Framework on Social Media and its Impact ... 8
2.5 Theoretical Framework on Consumer Awareness & Behavior ... 9
3. Methods ... 11
3.1 Research objectives – Hypothesis ... 11
3.2 Research Design ... 12
3.3 Sample... 13
3.4 Procedure & Measurements ... 14
4. Results ... 16
5. Discussion ... 23
6.Conclusion ... 25
7.References ... 26
8.Appendix ... 31
The fast fashion business model is based on creating fashionable designs at low cost, quickly responding to market demand, and frequently rotating clothing. Oftentimes, fast fashion brands promote their products as being more sustainable than they genuinely are – known greenwashing.
However, due to a lack of knowledge, consumers tend to misinterpret such claims and the actual costs of fast fashion. Moreover, social media is now used as a promotional tool to increase brand awareness, customer satisfaction, and competitiveness. Influencers, bloggers, or simply advertisements encourage users' consciousness by communicating the truth behind fast fashion.
This study aims to understand the effect social media has on consumer awareness when it comes to greenwashing in the fast fashion industry. The beginning of the research focuses on previous literature about fast fashion, greenwashing, and consumer behavior. Furthermore, in connection to literary findings, a survey was conducted to understand consumers' perceptions of greenwashing and media influence. During the study, it was found that consumer awareness increases due to social media. Therefore, informing the public about the true meaning behind fashion plays a key role in eliminating the downsides.
The textile industry is one of the most contaminating industries in the world. Besides requiring vast amounts of raw material, it generates roughly 20% of water pollution and 10% of the world's carbon emissions (Brewer, 2019). To produce one kilogram of cotton, 20.000 liters of water are needed (World Wildlife Fund, 2019). Because of these alarming numbers, environmental concerns are increasing, and the demand for eco-friendly products is rising. Businesses are therefore compelled to encourage and promote sustainable behaviors (Chandra & Ali, 2017). This is often done through social media as it has become one of the most successful marketing tools by bringing consumers and businesses together and exploiting market opportunities to create brand awareness (Ahmad et al., 2015). Social networks are used by companies and industries to communicate with the target consumers and spread their brand sustainable actions (Buzzo & Abreu, 2018). However, a widespread phenomenon known as greenwashing often leads companies to promote their products or themselves to be more sustainable than they genuinely are and causes ambiguity in consumer awareness (Majlath, 2017).
Fast fashion brands, including Zara, H&M, or Forever21, are continuously launching sustainable clothing collections to respond to sustainable consumption demands and increase consumer satisfaction (Kim & Oh, 2020). However, such sustainable collections can often take advantage of misinformation by misleading consumers about the true impact of their “sustainable” brand. The Norwegian Consumer Authority (CA) recently accused H&M of greenwashing, for releasing insufficient information about the ecological benefits of their sustainable collection “Conscious”, by portraying their claims very generally and not specifying the actual sustainable services (Hitti, 2019). Such issues are related to misrepresenting the images of companies by affecting the authenticity of their sustainable proposals (Asif & Asif, 2020). Furthermore, these claims often
2 negatively mislead consumers' awareness and general perception about unsustainable production and consumption in the textile industry (Sinisalo, 2020).
What is, therefore, a vital aspect in every industry, including fashion, is transparency. Especially today, the tracing of the product's origin has become very difficult because outsourcing production activities are spread throughout various countries (Chandra & Ali, 2017). Many times, the true details of production and distributions are unknown. Moreover, companies often provide very vague information which deceives customers (Sinisalo, 2020). However, the company's knowledge about their sustainable and ethical practices should be clear to avoid greenwashing.
Being transparent about the company's products or production increases customer trust and adds value for the company (Chandra & Ali, 2017). Social media is known as one of the most potent tools for brand building and increasing consumer awareness. Fashion brands should therefore spread reliable information through various platforms which influence consumers' behaviors and increase their perceptions.
Social media strongly influences its' users and encourages user involvement (Bashar et al., 2012).
However, the extent to which consumers are aware of the negative consequences fast fashion holds on the environment based on knowledge spread through social media, and the actions they are willing to take requires further research. Another literary gap lies between knowledge and awareness about greenwashing and the purchasing power of customers. Do customers who are aware of these issues purchase alternative clothing or do they ignore these claims and continue purchasing fast fashion brands?
As a result, this paper aims to examine the following research question: “Does Social Media Have an Impact on Consumer Awareness Towards Greenwashing in the Fast Fashion Industry?”. The research paper will offer contributions to help overcome the literature gap by providing more
3 information to the public about the aforementioned problems. Furthermore, additional research is conducted through obtaining necessary information from individuals’ actions and behaviors based on a survey. With relevant findings from the survey, this paper will build upon existing information to answer the research questions.
The structure of this paper is as follows: subsequently after the introduction, a theoretical framework is presented where the current literature about the subject is analyzed and assessed by its relevance. Additionally, the concepts used throughout the text are defined and evaluated in this section. Clear definitions and examples are to be provided. Thirdly, the methods section is presented, which analyses the methods that are used, and provides a clearer description of the topic along with its reliability and validity. Next, the results follow with the model of the research and findings of the research. In the discussion, the results are interpreted and evaluated and the research question is answered with its limitations. The paper is then concluded with a general summary and findings of this paper.
2.1 Theoretical Framework on Fast Fashion & Sustainability Issues
The dynamic, fast fashion industry has promptly developed within the last 20 years (Bhardwaj &
Fairhurst, 2009). Today, fast fashion is a common term based on a differentiating business model that combines three aspects, namely; quick responsiveness to the market, frequent assortment changes, and fashionable designs at affordable prices (Caro and Martinez-de-Albeniz, 2 In other words, fast fashion is used to describe low-cost clothing that copies expensive brands while bringing new designs in a swift rotation. Where a typical design takes about six months to reach the run-way, fast fashion businesses rely on fast cycles to change styles within a few weeks
4 (Chandra & Ali, 2017). Because of these three aspects, this business model has sustained its growth by outperforming traditional retailers and holding high barriers to entry for competitors. As a result, it has become highly successful and today dominates the fashion industry (Niinimäki et al., 2020). Low prices and fast productions encourage consumers to purchase more and frequently, and in turn this increases profits for businesses (Zhang et al., 2021). The fast fashion business model has become highly effective mainly because of its globalized supply chain. To quickly serve the emerging market trends and demands, manufacturers employ a quick response strategy, which improves information flow and provides an accurate forecast of the market (Zhang et al., 2021).
At first, such elements may seem beneficial for consumers and the market. However, the fast fashion industry is significantly associated with negative social and environmental impacts (Torres et al., 2017). Over recent years the textile industry was substantially criticized for lacking social and ecological concerns and placing non-financial costs forward (Niinimäki et al., 2020).
Annually, the sector produces 8-10% of global CO2 emissions, 20% of industrial water pollution (Kant, 2012), and over 92 million tons of waste, almost all of which ends up in landfills or is burnt (EMF, 2017).
The increasing population and the increase in consumption, including clothing, have caused a significant negative impact on the environment (Niinimäki et al., 2020). The global consumption of clothing has risen to about 62 million tons per year. As a result, fashion brands are producing almost twice the amount compared to 20 years ago (EMF, 2017). Because of this immense growth in production, the fast fashion business model arose, which works with a rapid production cycle to meet the changing consumer demand and offer consumers cheap clothing that imitates high-cost luxurious brands (Chandra & Ali, 2017). However, the fast fashion industry is correlated with unsuitable actions which in turn causes critique. Sustainable behaviors are in high demand and fast
5 fashion stores are altering their ways to match with the trends. To what extent these claims are truthful is debatable.
2.2 Theoretical Framework on Sustainability
Sustainability is a term that has many definitions. Originally the meaning of suitability was
“satisfying the current needs without compromising the future generation’s needs” (Keeble et al., 2003). However, since then, the term was narrowed down to 3 aspects, environmental, social, and economic, known as the “Triple Bottom Line” of sustainability (Hacking & Guthrie, 2008). In the latest literature, sustainability is defined as any ongoing activities that do not cause harm to the environment; it is the way you expect to be treated and the way you treat others while also considering today’s generations’ needs without affecting the needs of the future generations’
(Fletcher, 2008). According to (Thiele 2006), sustainability is the easiest to define by saying what it is not. Therefore, an organization, act, or relationship is not sustainable if it does not undermine the social, economic, or environmental conditions of its feasibility (Thiele, 2006). According to (Seidmen, 2007) sustainability is about much more than just the environment, it is about the proper relationships between individuals, communities and organization. Sustainable behavior acts upon the trade-offs between various groups of people -rich vs. the poor-, labors -capitalistic vs. non- capitalist and countries – developed vs. developing- (Zhang et al., 2021).
In managerial literature, sustainability is a term which is often associated with Corporate Social Responsibility (Feng & Nghai, 2021). CSR includes responsible behavior in three broad areas: the marketplace (consumers and suppliers), workplace (employees) and community (Majalth, 2017).
CSR is used by businesses that take into account the interests of society by being fully responsible for any impact their decisions and activities may have on consumers, employees, society, and the
6 environment. Going “green” is gaining more popularity among businesses, as it is becoming a vital aspect in the purchasing power of consumers and stakeholders (Chandra & Ali, 2017). Because of this a firm which participates in CSR activities, increases sales and gains a competitive advantage over its competitors (Weber, 2008). Moreover, fast fashion companies are putting more effort into eco-friendly collections which focus on suitability. H&M recently launched its “Conscious Collection” made from sustainable material (H&M, 2021). However, oftentimes these
“sustainable” claims are only the result of a phenomena known as greenwashing.
2.3 Theoretical Framework on Greenwashing
Recently, environmental concerns have been rising, and eco-friendly products are in high demand.
Businesses are, therefore, compelled to use sustainable and environmental aspects to promote their brands while increasing sales and consumer satisfaction (Chandra & Ali, 2017). To match the current market demands, marketers and advertising professionals are incentivized to develop sustainable advertisements (Sinisalo, 2020). To satisfy the needs of consumers and stakeholders that are more sustainable, companies need to shift from conventional marketing tactics to green marketing tactics (Kotler & Keller, 2016). According to Ottman (2011), the difference between the two is that organizations should rather be transparent and proactive and shall focus on long- term (triple bottom line goals) rather than short-term (profit maximization goals). Additionally, products should be produced based on the cradle-to-cradle (C2C) approach rather than the cradle- to-grave approach (C2G). C2G is based on a linear model, starting with production and ending with waste in landfills. C2C approach emphasizes that all material should be used effectively, and the end product should be reused or recycled (Contreras-Lisperguer et al., 2017).
7 This green marketing theory seems rather easy to pursue. However, multiple issues arise when a firm tries to apply such tactics. One of the main concerns lies within companies' honesty, as more companies want to use sustainable claims and seem more eco-friendly than they are- known as greenwashing (Sinisalo, 2020). Greenwashing is a term used to define the activities of companies that promote their products or themselves more sustainably than they are (Majlath, 2017).
According to Lyon & Montgomery (2005), greenwashing capitalizes through attracting consumers and stakeholders based on environmentally friendly and fair-trade goods by marketing their products as "green" without obliging the right standards, therefore increasing their profits.
There are different ways to clarify greenwashing, according to two different studies, these are based on either the strategy or scope of a business. According to a study conducted by Chandra &
Ali (2017), on a strategy-based level, greenwashing can be split into two categories: decoupling and attention deflection. Decoupling happens when an organization wants to meet the needs of consumers and stakeholders, while changes in the organizational culture stay the same. On the other hand, Attention deflection occurs when certain actions are used to divert the attention of consumers and stakeholders while still practicing unsustainable behavior (Chandra & Ali, 2017).
According to Delmas & Burbano (2011), based on the scope of a business, two forms of greenwashing- corporate-level greenwashing and product-level greenwashing are present. A company is said to partake in corporate-level greenwashing when their supply chain is claimed to be more sustainable than it is, and product-level greenwashing when a company untruthfully fosters the idea that their product or service is environmentally friendly. Greenwashing is often spread through advertising and the use of social media to promote a product or service and influence the purchasing behaviors of existing and potential consumers (Sinisalo, 2020)
8 2.4 Theoretical Framework on Social Media and its Impact
Social media is a set of online platforms and communication channels used by society to share different information (Moran, 2012). These can be used either internally within an organization or externally. External communication refers to the organization communicating through digital platforms with external groups such as the public, customers, or vendors. In contrast, internal communication refers to the social interaction within the business (Leonardi et al., 2013).
In the past couple of years, social media has become one of the most effective marketing tools by providing new marketing opportunities and forming interaction between brands and consumers and, in turn, consumer awareness. (Ahmad et al., 2015). Moreover, social media is setting the stage for the fashion industry, as it has become one of the most popular fashionable tools which encourage “word of mouth.” Word of mouth refers to consumers communicating informally about products or services, creating awareness and influencing the purchasing power (Mohr, 2013).
Word of mouth is compelling in spreading positive or even negative information about a specific brand.
In recent years, websites such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter have evolved and gained popularity among spreading fashion trends (Ahmad et al., 2015). Companies and brands can promote their image, live stream events, and influence consumers through social media platforms.
Besides this, fashion bloggers or influencers play a crucial role in the fashion industry. Customers often rely on the feedback and recommendations of influencers in promoting a specific product, service, or brand (Carah & Louw, 2011) Today, social media advertising is gaining popularity as consumers communicate through these social networking websites, where peer reviews and the opinion of others hold greater importance (Agresta et at., 2010). Influencers and bloggers have a significant effect on promoting brand awareness and persuading consumers. This sense, the power
9 has shifted to consumers and whether or not they find bloggers, influencers or brands to be reliable (Carah & Louw, 2011).
Today, almost any information can be found through social media. Oftentimes, companies try to promote themselves based on a false image through the use of greenwashing (Lyon &
Montgomery, 2013). Companies may not specifically lie to customers, but often use very vague information and do not disclose any information about their failures (Lyon & Maxwell, 2011).
Consumers are often misled by “sustainable” campaigns on social media where only very broad information is presented.
2.5 Theoretical Framework on Consumer Awareness & Behavior
A consumer is "any individual or household utilizing goods and services generated within the economy" (Azrina et al., 2011). Previous research has shown that many consumers' awareness and knowledge about a specific topic significantly impact consumers' behaviors (McEchner &
Warnaby, 2008; Hartlieb & Jones 2009; Thomas & Mills 2006).
For this paper, consumers' behavior and actions will be based on Ajzen's Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). TPB was first introduced in 1985 and has since been used by many scholars to predict human social behavior (Ajzen, 2011). TBP is used to indicate an individual's intention to engage in conduct and explain behaviors over which people have self-control (LaMorte, 2019).
TBP consists of six constructs representing a person's control over their behavior; Attitude, Behavioral Intention, Subjective Norms, Social Norms, Perceived Power, and Perceived Behavioral Control (Armitage & Christian, 2003).
LaMorte (2019) describes each of the constructs as follows. A person's attitude towards a specific action and outcome of the action influences whether or not to act. Behavior intention indicates
10 how motivated or influenced a person is in acting, the higher the motivation, the more likely the act is to happen. Subjective norms refer to how much others affect a person. A person firmly replies to what others around them believe and whether they should engage in the behavior. Social norms are standard behaviors between groups of people within the same community. Perceived power is any other element that may influence a person's behavior. Finally, perceived behavioral control refers to the person's belief of whether the task is simple or demanding to perform.
The purchasing power of a consumer in the fast fashion industry can be linked to the theory mentioned above. A consumer may very well be influenced by others – if my peers have this type of brand, I want it as well-, their own attitudes towards the topic, and even perceived behavioral control, such as finding it easier to purchase clothing from fast fashion stores rather than alternative brands.
(Armitage & Christian, 2003).
11 Moreover, Ishak & Zabil (2012) conducted a study based on consumer awareness, knowledge and effective behavior. Knowledge and consumer awareness are two different variables and therefore both present different findings. The results of this study showed no significant correlation between knowledge about a topic and certain actions taken. What they find though, is that providing relevant information to increase consumers awareness, not only knowledge is vital for effective consumer behavior. Based on these findings and the TBP, indicates that consumers actions are not only affected by their own attitudes, others and perceived behavioral control, but also the awareness towards a specific topic.
It is necessary to contribute with more information by finding out whether consumers are aware of the before mentioned problems and whether anything is done to avoid them. To further expand this paper, a survey was conducted. The methods used and an elaboration on the survey topic will be explained in the following section.
3.1 Research objectives – Hypothesis
Based on existing literature on fast fashion, sustainability, greenwashing, and consumer awareness, the following research aim was determined to further expand the studies and fill the literary gap.
The main purpose of this paper was to explore whether or not social media has a significant impact on consumers awareness towards greenwashing in the fast fashion industry. Based on this, the following hypothesis are posed.
Hypothesis 1. Consumers who are aware of greenwashing purchase alternative clothing/brands.
12 Hypothesis 2. Consumers who are not aware of greenwashing do not purchase alternative clothing/brands.
Hypothesis 3. Social media has a significant impact on consumer awareness about greenwashing in the fast fashion industry.
Hypothesis 4. Awareness towards greenwashing is associated with media influence.
3.2 Research Design
While looking at Ajzen's Theory of Planned Behavior, it is found that a person relies on multiple constructs that explain the behaviors of taking specific actions. As mentioned earlier, one's control over their actions is limited to 6 dimensions: Attitude, Behavioral Intention, Subjective Norms, Social Norms, Perceived Power, and Perceived Behavioral Control (Armitage & Christian, 2003).
For the purpose of this paper, TPB theory is one of the theories the findings will be linked to and further analyzed. A person's attitude and behavioral intention about greenwashing are connected to the outcome of purchasing alternative brands. The higher knowledge about greenwashing, the more likely a person is to care about the topic and take action. Subjective norms imply how much a consumer is affected by others' decisions. In this case, the decision of others is associated with social media, such as influencers posting blogs, vlogs, recommendations, and comments towards companies greenwashing. Furthermore, results from a previous study conducted by Zhang et al.
(2021), which focused on consumer attitudes on fast fashion and sustainability, were additionally used in support of the results found during this study.
Moreover, as social media is setting the stage for multiple businesses regarding advertising and promotions, it is another vital factor to take into consideration when evaluating a consumer's
13 behavior. Although some people may be aware of fast fashion brands promoting "sustainable"
collections, they may not be aware that this is only a means of greenwashing their business models.
For this purpose, it is essential to inform consumers about the true meaning of sustainability and the impact greenwashing holds on the environment and a company's portfolio.
An essential aspect of this paper is to not only to understand consumers actions and behaviors towards greenwashing in the fast fashion industry, but more importantly to increase the awareness about what is truly happening in this industry. This was done by focusing on relevant literature and elaborating on the literary review in the previous section. Moreover, the aim of this paper is to further add to existing literature and studies, by adding a quantitative solution through the means of a survey. The key of the survey is to analyze the degree of consumers awareness about greenwashing, whether or not certain actions are taken when consumers are aware and finally, whether or not social media has a significant impact towards those actions taken. The final step is to apply the findings of the survey to previous literature and conclude by filling the literary gap.
For additional insights, a survey was conducted and open for answers for two weeks, during which participants were free to exit the study whenever they pleased. For this reason, some responses were left unfished and were later disregarded in the data set analysis. Altogether, 68 participants took part in the survey. The participants consisted of 19 males (27.9%), 43 females (63.2%), 1 non-binary (1%), and 1 -who preferred not to say (1%). Because of the incompletion of the survey, 4 samples were missing (5.9%). Fourteen males were from the age group of 16-21, 4 males were from the age group of 22-27. Twenty-one females were from the age group 16-21, 17 females were from the age group of 22-27, and 2 were from the age group of 28-33. 2 participants were from
14 the age groups 16-21 that either preferred not to mention their gender or identified as non-binary.
The other age categories were disregarded as this study focused mainly on young adults aged 16- 33. Additionally, the 4 variables that were missing were omitted. In the end, a total of 54 participants had been taken into account.
3.4 Procedure & Measurements
An essential aspect of conducting the research was a thorough literary review. By gathering and analyzing relevant studies and procedures, an idea was formed on how to proceed further. In addition, the literature provided a general overview of the purpose of this paper and an elaborate proposition to the problems proposed. Based on those findings, TPB theory was chosen to describe different consumer behaviors and actions linked with social media as one aspect driving consumers' behaviors.
After the literary analysis contribution, a survey was made to connect the results to existing studies further. First of all, Qualtrics was used to make the survey, which consisted of 13 questions.
Questions were created based on previous literature and the relevant information needed to proceed further. A vital aspect was understanding whether or not there is a significant correlation between consumers who are aware of greenwashing and knowledge about the fast fashion industry gained from social media. Moreover, understanding consumers' attitudes and awareness towards greenwashing was an essential step in filling the literary gap. During the study, it was also critical to understand how consumers view greenwashing and whether or not anything is done to avoid it.
The survey was distributed to consumers mainly in Slovakia and the Netherlands through the means of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. Participants were freely asked to participate in the study and to also share the study with others after completion.
15 Participants were free to leave the study whenever needed, however, those answers were later disregarded. After a period of two weeks, the survey responses were closed and the answers were exported into the program SPSS and further analyzed with relevant models. After the analysis of the data set, relevant findings were linked to existing literature in order to conclude a general overview and fill the existing literary gap.
3.5 Analytical Plan
After exporting the data from Qualtrics into SPSS, the data was analyzed thoroughly. A total of 6 variables had incomplete responses. These missing variables were deleted and not used in the further process. Moreover, many studies point to the increasing use of social media by young adults. Villanti et al. (2017) found that more than 90% of young adults in the US have access to social media. Furthermore, Lenhart et al. (2010) found that only 7% of adults over 30 used blogs compared to 24% of young adults between the age 18-29. Previous literature indicates support for more use of social media among younger adults than adults. Because of this, the survey focused on age categories of 16-33, as these consumers are most likely to be affected by social media. Any age category above age 33 was disregarded and not used in the analysis. After clearing the data, 54 participants were left. Thus, 37 participants belonged to the age category of 16-21, 21 participants belonged to the age category of 22-27, and 2 belonged to age groups 28-33.
Participants were grouped into two categories, those who are aware of greenwashing and those who are not aware of greenwashing. The multiple responses were used to define the variable set of alternative purchasing for the two different groups. It was essential to understand the difference between participants who are aware of greenwashing and what actions they are willing to take
16 versus those participants who are not mindful of greenwashing and what alternative to fast fashion they partake in.
A correlation analysis was run between variable 1: awareness towards greenwashing 2: social media influence. It was essential to understand whether or not consumers see social media as a promotion tool about greenwashing and if it has affected how and where clothing is purchased.
Moreover, a Chi-Square Test for Association was run. However, Fisher’s Exact test was chosen due to the limited sample size instead of conducting the Chi-Square Test. Furthermore, a crosstabulation of social media influence and awareness towards greenwashing was analyzed to understand how and where the relationship between these variables lies. Finally, as a follow-up to the correlation analysis and Fisher’s Exact test, an open question was posed to participants. This question asked participants to explain how social media has positively or negatively influenced their perception of greenwashing.
Participants were asked various questions about awareness towards greenwashing and social media’s influence (see appendix “survey questions”). To further understand consumer behavior and comprehension about the topic, respondents were asked the following question: “Fashion stores tend to use sustainable claims in promoting their products. However, these are often the results of the greenwashing phenomena, where companies promote their products or themselves more sustainably than they are. Are you aware of the above-mentioned information?” 3 different answers were possible, yes, no, and somewhat.
Participants were later categorized into 2 different groups, those who answered yes and somewhat aware and those who answered no. 18 participants chose yes, 17 chose somewhat, and 19 chose
17 no. In the follow-up question, the two different groups of consumers were asked, “Do you do anything to avoid purchasing such brands? You can choose more than 1 answer.” The main idea was to understand if those who are aware of greenwashing behave differently from those who are not mindful of greenwashing. The results of the frequencies are shown in table 1 and table 2.
Greenwashing awareness frequencies - not aware
Greenwashing awareness frequencies - aware
From the second group marked as consumers aware of greenwashing, 0% of respondents chose the answer “no, I would still purchase those brands.” However, 9.3% of respondents who, before being informed, were not aware of greenwashing chose this option. These results indicate that most consumers who are aware of greenwashing try to avoid greenwashed stores by finding alternative
Consumers not aware of greenwashing
Alternatives to fast fashion purchases Responses Percent of Cases
Purchase second hand clothing instead 12 27.90% 63.20%
Purchase sustainable brands instead 9 20.90% 47.40%
Purchase better quality to last longer 15 34.90% 78.90%
Rent, swap clothing instead 2 4.70% 10.50%
Other 1 2.30% 5.30%
No, I would still purchase those brands 4 9.30% 21.10%
Total 43 100.00% 226.30%
a. Dichotomy group tabulated at value 1.
Consumers aware of greenwashing
Alternatives to fast fashion purchases Responses percent of cases N Percent
Purchase second hand clothing instead 13 34.20% 72.20%
Purchase sustainable brands instead 8 21.10% 44.40%
Purchase better quality to last longer 9 23.70% 50.00%
Rent, swap clothing instead 6 15.80% 33.30%
Other 2 5.30% 11.10%
Total 38 100.00% 211.10%
a. Dichotomy group tabulated at value 1.
18 means such as buying second-hand or better-quality clothes to last longer. On the other hand, a small number of consumers who were not aware of greenwashing would still purchase those brands despite being informed. The results mentioned above can be applied to Ajzen’s theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 2011) by analyzing the perceived behavioral control, which points out that consumers, despite being informed, still find purchasing fast fashion brands easier than finding alternatives. Additionally, another one of Ajzen’s constructs, perceived power, could be an additional external element that may affect purchasing behaviors. Although perceived powers vary, in this case, an external factor may include switching cost or higher cost of purchasing outside of fast fashion stores.
Based on these results, H1: Consumers who are aware of greenwashing purchase alternative clothing/brands, was supported, as all respondents in the survey chose from all options, besides options of still shopping at fast fashion brands. However, H2. Consumers who are not aware of greenwashing do not purchase alternative clothing/brands were rejected as most consumers would find an alternative to buying clothing from fast fashion stores after being informed. These findings are similar to the findings of a previous study conducted by Zhang et al. (2021) which studied consumers attitudes towards sustainability in fast fashion. Zhang et al. (2021) found that males and females react relatively the same when it comes to purchasing sustainable brands. Over 50%
of participants stated they purchase more than 30% of their clothing from sustainable brands, and while males are more sensitive to prices, females disregard the costs and purchase more sustainable rather than cheaper.
The second part of the survey focused on social media and its effect on consumer’s actions. Over the years, social media has advanced and became one of the most effective marketing tools, increasing marketing opportunities and contributing to collaborations between brands and
19 consumers (Ahmad et al., 2015). Because of such advancement, understanding how social media has affected participants and their stance about fast fashion was essential. Therefore, the following question was asked: “Did social media ever positively or negatively influence your perceptions towards the Fast Fashion industry?” Shown below in table 3 are the frequencies.
Frequencies of social media influence
More than half of the respondents stated that social media has affected their perception towards the fast fashion industry either positively or negatively. For those who chose yes, an open, follow up question was presented, which asked participants to describe how has social media negatively/positively influenced their perception.
Examples of answers from consumers who were negatively affected by social media include the following: “I heard about some brands greenwashing and having "sustainable collections" when in fact it is not true”; ”there is more information about the downsides of fast fashion”; “I regularly read posts from sustainable-fashion promoters on Instagram about the negative effects of fashion on the environment as well as the exploitation of workers”; ”I follow influencer that updates me with (un)sustainable practices”. The following are examples from consumers who were positively affected by social media: “Promoting eco-friendly brands and better-quality products”; “Exposure
Frequency Percent Valid Percent
Yes, positively 13 24.1 24.1 24.1
Yes, negatively 24 44.4 44.4 68.5
No, social media did not influence my perception 17 31.5 31.5 22.2
Total 54 100 100 100
20 to consequences of fast fashion”; “I follow a lot of accounts (such as dietprada) that expose fast fashion brands. I become more aware of the greenwashing process – and like to avoid it”
Mohr (2013) states that social media acts as a “word of mouth” tool, referring to the quick spread of information about products/services between consumers and brands through informal communication. In these responses, it was seen that social media encourages word of mouth for many consumers. A great number of respondents were aware of the negative impact fast fashion holds, mainly because of knowledge gained from social media networks, such as the influencers on Instagram, or differing advertisements. Moreover, as stated by Carah & Louw (2011), the purchasing power has shifted to bloggers and influencers, who strongly effect consumer’s behaviors. Many of the respondents stated they are heavily affected by influencers’ opinions and their contribution to increasing awareness about unsustainable actions in the fast fashion industry (see appendix “13 consumers responses”). To conclude H3. Social media has a significant impact on consumer awareness about greenwashing in the fast fashion industry was supported based on survey results and existing literature.
The final part of this study focused on the relationship between consumer awareness towards greenwashing and media influence. Participants were asked “Has social media ever portrayed greenwashing in a way that has affected how and where you purchase your clothing?”, the different responses include, yes, no and somewhat. The second question was posed after explaining the definition of greenwashing and asking participants “Are you aware of the above-mentioned information”. To further analyze this relationship a correlation analysis was conducted between the two questions. Shown in table 4 are all variables, their means, standard deviations and Pearson correlations.
21 As seen above, there was a weak negative correlation of -0.269 between gender and consumer awareness at a significance level of 0.05. Furthermore, the correlation between consumer awareness towards greenwashing and social media influence was significant at the 0.01 level, referring to a positive medium correlation of 0.431. Therefore, consumers that were aware of greenwashing were also influenced by social media about greenwashing. To further expand on the correlation analysis, a Fisher’s Exact test was conducted. Unfortunately, the Chi-Square test was unable to be used because of the limited number of respondents. Therefore, the alternative for smaller sample size was the use of Fisher’s Exact test. To run the test, two hypotheses were stated.
The null hypothesis, a statistical theory, said there was no relationship between the observed variables, and an alternative hypothesis stated there was a significant relationship between the observed variables.
H0: Awareness towards greenwashing is not associated with media influence.
H1: Awareness towards greenwashing is associated with media influence.
Descriptive statistics and
Variable M SD 1 2 3
1. Gender 1.75 0.56
2. Age 1.44 0.57 0.22
3. Consumer awareness 2.02 0.84 -0.269* -0.02
4. Social media influence 1.76 0.80 -0.11 -0.13 0.431**
Notes. N = 54. Gender was coded as 1 = male, 2 = female, 3 = non-binary, 4 = prefer not to say.
Age was coded as 1 = 16-21, 2 = 22-27, 3 = 28-33. Consumer awareness was coded as 1=yes, 2= somewhat, 3=no.
Social media influence was coded as 1=yes, 2=somewhat, 3=no
* p < .05.
** p < .01.
22 Table 5
Fisher’s Exact Test
Fisher’s Exact Test
Pearson Chi-Square 13.010a 4 0.011 0.010
Fisher's Exact Test 13.624 0.007
N of Valid Cases 54
a. 3 cells (33.3%) have expected count less than 5. The minimum expected count is 3.78.
b. The standardized statistic is 3.135.
Because the p-value was smaller than the significance level of 0.011, the null hypothesis was rejected. A conclusion was made to propose enough evidence that suggested an association between awareness towards greenwashing and media influence. The following cross table (table 6) further portrays proof in support of the alternative hypothesis.
Crosstabulation: awareness towards greenwashing & media influence
Has social media ever portrayed
greenwashing in a way that has affected how and where you purchase your clothing?
Yes Somewhat No
Awareness towards greenwashing Yes 14 4 0 18
Somewhat 5 7 5 17
No 6 6 7 19
Total 25 17 12 54
14 respondents who were aware of greenwashing also said that social media has influenced where they purchase clothing due to greenwashing. On the other hand, none of the respondents who were mindful of greenwashing said social media did not affect them. Moreover, out of those respondents who were not aware of greenwashing, 7 stated social media did not affect their purchasing.
23 Social media has set the stage in the fast fashion industry and quickly gains popularity from consumer communication through social networking websites, where reviews and opinion of other matter significantly (Agresta et at., 2010) As seen from these results, social media holds significant influence over consumer’s behaviors and actions. Whether it be influencers posting reviews, promoting sustainable brands, or spreading awareness about the true meaning of sustainability.
Consumers often acknowledge social networks to gain new information and act upon what is right and what is wrong.
This study aimed to examine whether social media has an impact on consumer awareness towards greenwashing in the fast fashion industry. The results indicate support for the first hypothesis, which states that consumers who are aware of greenwashing purchase alternative clothing/brands.
This indicates that consumers who have relevant knowledge about the fast fashion industry try to avoid it by purchasing either second hand clothing, better quality to last longer, or by renting and swapping clothes. Furthermore, hypothesis two, stating consumers who are not aware of greenwashing do not purchase alternative brands/clothing was rejected. Although 9.3% of respondents stated they would still continue and shop in the fast fashion industry, a great deal of them after being informed, stated they would avoid shopping with fast fashion brands. These hypotheses together indicated that when consumers are thoroughly informed about greenwashing, they start avoiding those brands and switch to sustainable shopping.
Additionally, as the study also focused on how social media affects consumer behavior, hypothesis three, social media has a significant impact on consumer awareness about greenwashing in the fast fashion industry was supported. These results indicate that consumers who are either negatively or
24 positively affected by social media, through influencers, blogs, advertisements, or social media networks, also have increased awareness about greenwashing. Finally, support was present for the last hypothesis which states awareness towards greenwashing is associated with media influence.
These results point to a conclusion that those who are aware of greenwashing also avoid purchasing fast fashion brands because of social media raising awareness about greenwashing.
These findings point to a number of new and potentially important advances for research and practice. In relevance with previous findings (Sinisalo, 2020; Carah & Louw, 2011; Zhang et al., 2021), it was found that greenwashing is often spread through social media to promote a product or service, however, influencers and bloggers have a significant effect on promoting brand awareness and by persuading consumers to do what is right. Moreover, external factors are also present which contribute the purchasing behaviors. However, this paper contributed with additional findings, such that those consumers who are aware of greenwashing often avoid it and those who are aware of greenwashing tend to also be highly influenced by how social media portrays greenwashing. The analysis and tests ran, support these arguments and further contribute to existing literature. By spreading knowledge about the truthfulness of greenwashing, consumers are more likely to avoid purchasing in fast fashion brands. Although fake advertisements about sustainable collections are wide spread, there are many alternatives to creating awareness. Most participants were mainly influenced by influencers spreading this knowledge.
Although a thorough literary analysis was conducted with additional support by distributing a survey, ruling out all limitations is not applicable. Limitations of this paper include using a small sample size of 54 participant. Additionally, the study was not conducted in a specific country and therefore, participants were either from the Netherlands or Slovakia. This study furthermore focused only on age categories from 16-33 years old. Despite these limitations, previous studies
25 show similar results and therefore, there is evidence of external validity. Moreover, with new sustainable brand alternatives arising, it is becoming clear that the ecological footprint left by fast fashion stores which greenwash, is becoming an increasing issue. Furthermore, social media networks are increasing this awareness in promoting alternative means or spreading knowledge about the true effect of fast fashion. Future research should focus on extending the age categories being investigated. Moreover, future research should focus on how social media networks can increase the awareness even more and eliminate any greenwashed campaign’s by providing only true details about the current situation. Finally, future research should focus on spreading awareness in more vulnerable countries, where individuals are not fully aware of what is happening. These proposals would increase consumer awareness about the fast fashion industry, greenwashing, and would further limit the power of these brands.
This study implies that consumer awareness towards greenwashing in the fast fashion industry increases through social media information. However, social media may sometimes portray a false image of what greenwashing really is. It is essential for consumers to be fully informed about the ecological footprint left by the fast fashion industry. Further awareness should be brought up in social media, such as promotions by influencers, true statements about greenwashed campaigns, and transparency of fast fashion retail, mainly on the supply chain.
To conclude, there is enough evidence to suggest that social media has a significant impact on consumer awareness towards greenwashing in the fast fashion industry.
Previous research on greenwashing in the fast fashion industry focuses on describing the phenomena by thoroughly explaining the consequences of the ecological footprint left behind.
Furthermore, previous studies examine consumer awareness and behavioral actions, yet these
26 studies are not directly related to the influence of social media or the degree to which consumers have knowledge about greenwashing. Thus, this paper aimed to study how social media effects consumer awareness towards greenwashing in the fast fashion industry.
Results show that consumers who are aware of greenwashing avoid purchasing in fast fashion stores, instead they buy sustainable brands, second hand clothing or better quality to last longer.
Moreover, those who were unaware and afterwards informed about greenwashing, similarly chose shopping alternatively rather than continuing to purchase fast fashion. Furthermore, social media plays a key role in increasing consumer awareness. It was found that those, who learned about greenwashing in social media also switched to alternative brands/ purchasing styles. Social media networks such as Instagram, Facebook, influencers, bloggers, or advertisements play a vital part in raising awareness about greenwashing and in turn decreasing the power of the fast fashion industry. In short, social media is a strong, influential tool that should be exploited in order to spread genuine information about greenwashing on the fast fashion industry. Increasing awareness in the fast fashion industry is the very beginning of making a difference.
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Table 1: Greenwashing awareness frequencies - not aware
Percent of Cases
Consumers not aware of greenwashinga
Purchase second hand clothing instead
12 27.9% 63.2%
Purchase sustainable brands instead 9 20.9% 47.4%
Purchase better quality to last longer 15 34.9% 78.9%
Rent, swap clothing instead 2 4.7% 10.5%
Other 1 2.3% 5.3%
No, I would still purchase those brands
4 9.3% 21.1%
Total 43 100.0% 226.3%
a. Dichotomy group tabulated at value 1.
Table 2: Greenwashing awareness frequencies - aware
Percent of Cases
Consumers who are aware of greenwashinga
Purchase second hand clothing instead 13 34.2% 72.2%
Purchase sustainable brands instead 8 21.1% 44.4%
Purchase better quality to last longer 9 23.7% 50.0%
Rent, swap clothing instead 6 15.8% 33.3%
Other 2 5.3% 11.1%
Total 38 100.0% 211.1%
a. Dichotomy group tabulated at value 1.
Table 3: Frequencies of social media influence
Please read the following information to answer the question below.
Social media is setting the stage for various industries, including fashion. Social networks are used by companies and industries to communicate with the target consumers, exploit market
opportunities and spread brand sustainable actions.
Did social media ever positively or negatively influence your perceptions towards the Fast Fashion industry?
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Yes, positively 13 24.1 24.1 24.1
Yes, negatively 24 44.4 44.4 68.5
No, social media did not influence my perception
17 31.5 31.5 22.2
Total 54 100.0 100.0 100.0
Table 4: Descriptive statistics and correlations
Has social media ever portrayed greenwashing
in a way that has affected how and where
you purchase your clothing?
Awareness towards greenwashing
How old are you?
What is your gender?
Has social media ever portrayed greenwashing in a way that has affected how and where you purchase your clothing?
Pearson Correlation 1 .431** -.133 -.109
Sig. (2-tailed) .001 .338 .431
Sum of Squares and Cross- products
33.870 15.241 -3.222 -2.611
Covariance .639 .288 -.061 -.049
N 54 54 54 54
Awareness towards greenwashing
Pearson Correlation .431** 1 -.018 -.269*
Sig. (2-tailed) .001 .900 .049
Sum of Squares and Cross- products
15.241 36.981 -.444 -6.722
Covariance .288 .698 -.008 -.127
N 54 54 54 54
How old are you? Pearson Correlation -.133 -.018 1 .215
Sig. (2-tailed) .338 .900 .119
Sum of Squares and Cross- products
-3.222 -.444 17.333 3.667
Covariance -.061 -.008 .327 .069
N 54 54 54 54
What is your gender? Pearson Correlation -.109 -.269* .215 1