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Want to be green? It's all in the bag

I'm loath to use the word 'greenwash' to describe the wave of eco-friendly manifestos many fashion retailers have issued in recent months. It's a bit of a cynical term and suggests that there is not much substance behind these initiatives, and in some cases there isn't, but that doesn't mean we should dismiss them all as a cheap marketing ploy.

Marks & Spencer's Plan A, published in the form of ads in the national press this week, centres on five key points - climate change, waste, sustainable raw materials, fair partnership and health. It all looks pretty realistic and has a genuine air of integrity about it. Some of the pledges M&S makes are more a case of "we'll do our best" rather than a commitment to any specific target, but the retailer does state its aim to be carbon neutral and to ensure that none of its packaging or clothes need go to landfill by 2012. Whether these things do end up in landfill or not is clearly down to the consumer.

The reason I buy into Plan A more readily than other such statements is that M&S has a reputation of being one of the fairest of dealers on the high street when it comes to delivering on promises and supplier relations (although the ethical credentials of one of its own suppliers are being questioned - see page 6).

Like John Lewis, which has also recently published its Sustainable Construction Framework, M&S has not built its reputation on being the cheapest, but by offering quality at a reasonable price. If you have to pay a bit more at these stores, you know there's a reason for it.

Other green initiatives seem less firmly rooted in the honest intention to do good and are more to do with chasing column inches in the mainstream media. Even so, I'm not sure that is an altogether bad thing.

I couldn't help but smirk at the sight of hundreds of (mostly) women queuing round the block at Anya Hindmarch's store and at Harrods this week to lay their hands on her £5 reusable shopper, which is ironically emblazoned with the proclamation that it isn't a plastic bag.

I don't doubt Hindmarch's intentions to raise awareness of the plague of the plastic bag, but the reasons for those eager shoppers queueing to snap up her eco-friendly alternative probably had very little to do with concern for our burgeoning landfill requirement.

I checked out eBay the day after the bags went on sale, and sure enough there were six pages of "I'm not a plastic bag" bags available for anything up to £150. It would seem that many of those who helped to clear the shelves of the 10,000 bags in just 90 minutes were doing so to make a quick buck.

Good on them if they can find people willing to pay 30 times the retail price. And they will find plenty of punters, because the other main motivation for purchase was fashion. Several Hollywood stars have sported the shoppers since they were used as Oscar goody bags, fuelling a frenzy of demand.

But I guess it doesn't matter if amid the desire to either make money or look cool, people are made to pause and think about the real reason for these initiatives.

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