Consumer perceptions of greenwashing: lessons learned from the fashion sector in the UAE

Organizations devote considerable resources and effort to Corporate Social Responsibility programs to achieve positive results.

Policy makers and marketing practitioners alike are indisputably interested in environmental considerations because consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how their purchasing and consumption behaviors impact the environment, as well as the increasing media scrutiny of businesses for integrating social responsibility into their business strategies. However, many firms fail to meet sustainability expectations despite increased pressure to address environmental issues.

Greenwashing refers to fabricating green claims to project a positive public image. It refers to the concept of ‘whitewashing’, in which deceptions and malpractices are concealed to present a clean image to consumers. Although greenwashing practices are well documented, little is known about firms using these strategies in the Middle East, especially the United Arab Emirates, where the Green Economy Initiative is part of the UAE’s vision for a sustainable future.

By examining consumer perceptions of green claims of two major fast fashion firms, this paper (published in 2021) attempted to close this research gap. There has been no study of greenwashing in the United Arab Emirates, and it is believed that the fashion industry consumes the second most toxic chemicals, excessive water, and non-compliant waste management practices after the oil and gas industry in the world. 

In an exploratory qualitative study involving in-depth interviews with fast fashion consumers in the UAE, the ‘seven sins of greenwashing’ and ‘competitive altruism’ theories were examined, and consumer perceptions of green claims made by leading apparel manufacturers and retailers were analyzed. Studying consumer perceptions of greenwashing practices in the UAE provided a great opportunity to gather detailed information.

According to the findings of the study, consumers perceive fast fashion companies in the UAE as engaging in greenwashing since they lack adequate evidence to substantiate their altruistic claims. According to the participants of this study, the primary reason fast fashion firms greenwash is their lack of commitment to allocating financial resources for environmental initiatives. To achieve the same benefits enjoyed by truly altruistic companies; enhanced consumer trust and loyalty, fast fashion companies take the alternative route of greenwashing because altruism can be expensive and increase operational costs. 

Marketing managers must therefore ensure that environmental claims are honest and sincere, and not just in response to current market trends. With honest and transparent marketing communications, consumers are more likely to stay loyal to brands, whereas greenwashing can undermine a company’s reputation and financial health

About the Author

Sufia Munir, the Assistant Dean at Westford University College, has 15+ years of experience across academics and industry in India, Australia, and the UAE. Her expertise encompasses teaching, research, faculty development, and interdisciplinary collaboration within education. She’s currently pursuing her PhD, exploring sustainable retail models in the UAE’s apparel industry, emphasizing consumer behavior and societal influences. Sufia’s commitment to sustainable practices, combined with her extensive teaching experience, helps students grasp industry trends. She oversees programs in collaboration with UK universities and is dedicated to advancing sustainability through education and research.

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