Lessons from the Detox Campaign

“We need to be the responsible voice and agent for nature. Without beliefs and practices that align with conserving and improving our environment, our future will shut our planet down.”  Tom Chappell

Sustainability Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of Toms of Maine and Ramblers Way Farm

Being held accountable for your actions. We’re all pretty good at saying – in blanket terms of course- that there are problems, that someone needs to identify who is to blame and what should be done. Remain vigilant. And then what? Talking about issues in generic terms doesn’t push anyone into action –whether of a voluntary or an enforced manner. Greenpeace, in 2011, decided to do more than complain about the issues but actually do something that would bring us closer to a toxic-free future reality.

Clothing Toxic Cycle [Chart: Greenpeace]

Clothing Toxic Cycle [Chart: Greenpeace]

They launched the Detox Campaign to expose the direct links between global clothing brands, their suppliers and toxic water pollution around the world. It started with the agenda to challenge global sportswear brands to go toxin-free but slowly snowballed to holding all heavy-weight fashion retailers responsible for their actions. What lessons can we learn from this campaign that could help guide our own future policies and operations?

Greenpeace activists join a global day of action, protesting outside a Zara clothing store in Copenhagen to demand the clothing chain Detox their clothing lines. [Image: Copyright.  Greenpeace / Benita Marcussen]

Greenpeace activists join a global day of action, protesting outside a Zara clothing store in Copenhagen to demand the clothing chain Detox their clothing lines. [Image: Copyright. Greenpeace / Benita Marcussen]

Do your Homework

We live in a world where everyone is innocent unless proven otherwise. Even if it’s general knowledge that a designer or textile manufacturer isn’t playing for team green, unless you have the hard facts and proof that support these allegations, it’s just slander or “hate-speech”.

Nik Thakkar Greenpeace Fashion Detox Campaign [Image: Greenpeace]

Nik Thakkar Greenpeace Fashion Detox Campaign [Image: Greenpeace]

Tap into People Power

Corporate interest tends to trump moral logic. But that’s where the power in numbers comes in. Being pressured from consumers and society eventually helps brands to see the ethical light. The Detox Campaign brought together influencers in the fashion scene such as models, designers, and bloggers that believe beauty shouldn’t come from such a toxic affair. Together they work to highlight the cause and get their audiences to call for action too. You too can join this people power movement by signing the Detox Fashion Manifesto here.

[Image: Greenpeace]

[Image: Greenpeace]

Demand Accountability

Greenpeace believes that the current poisoning of waterways worldwide needs to be stopped immediately. But they also understand that it won’t happen overnight, thus the need for a call for transparency from brands about their conduct and the steps they’re taking to be toxin-free in future. Since the launch in 2011, the Detox Campaign has been able to secure public pledges from 18 international fashion companies. Namely Nike, AdidasPumaH&MM&SC&A, Li-NingZaraMango, EspritLevi’s,  Benetton, Victoria’s SecretG-Star RawValentinoCanepaBurberry, and Primark. Green Peace explains that the strategy in targeting international brands is that they easily have the ability to choose who they can collaborate with and what products are used on their clothes. They can work with suppliers to spot and eliminate the monsters in their production chain, as well as hire experts to help test for all chemicals used for unknown hazardous properties that may be lurking.

[Image: Greenpeace]

[Image: Greenpeace]

Provide a Guideline

We all have the intentions on being good, but it can be a little hazy at first finding your footing. Having solutions ready can help brands start off their journey to clean or to even go a step further and develop creative solutions to reduce their pollution footprint. The Detox Campaign decided to breakdown their solutions to categories that cater to brands, governments and even consumers.

When it comes to clothing companies, they have developed three fundamental principles to help create credible change:

  • Changes made should work to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals into the environment. These changes should be made following a clear and ambitious deadline driven schedule.
  • Instead of reactive measures, set up policies with prevention and precaution in mind.
  • Full transparency is required where they publicly disclose the chemicals used and released during the production process.


What Greenpeace asks of governments

In order to achieve zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals within one generation, they call governments to commit to enforcing chemicals management policies that establish:

  1. Intermediate short term targets to ban the production and use of well-known hazardous chemicals, based on properties such as carcinogenicity, toxicity for reproduction amongst others,
  2. A dynamic list of priority hazardous substances requiring immediate action, based on the substitution principle, so that hazardous chemicals are progressively replaced with safer alternatives, and
  3. A publicly available register of data on discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances, such as a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR).

Consumers and citizens too have a role to play. They can start by breaking their fast-fashion habits by buying fewer new clothing and apparel products. They even recommend re-purposing and re-using older clothes items. In addition, the people need to influence brands and demand governments to act responsibly for the sake of the planet’s and people’s health.  You can find more tips on how you can contribute to the change here.

[Image: Greenpeace]

[Image: Greenpeace]

Do your Follow Ups

Greenpeace doesn’t just leave it at pledges, they’re quite adamant in their follow-ups. In October 2013, they released the Detox Catwalk report which showed who was manifestly living up to their word (H&M, Mango and Uniqlo), those who hadn’t done anything since they signed up (Nike) and those who haven’t even committed to be a cleaner brand. This year, they released The Greenpeace Detox Catwalk 2016 report and declared which brands are actually on track to meeting their 2020 detox pledges. They based their evaluation on three main areas of criteria:

  1. Transparency – disclosure of information about suppliers and hazardous chemicals they discharge
  2. PFC elimination – how they’re being substituted with safer alternatives
  3. Detox 2020 plan – what proactive and preliminary system exists to ensure target is met


[Image: Greenpeace]

[Image: Greenpeace]

Companies like Inditex (owner of Zara), H&M, and United Colours of Benetton have come up on top and way ahead of the curve, having banned hazardous chemicals from their operations, from production to the suppliers they work with. The likes of Mango, Adidas, Valentino, Burberry, Primark and Puma are making progress and are still in evolution mode. However, in order to meet their 2020 target, they’d need to pick up the pace with their goals implementation. Companies such as Esprit and Limited Brands (supplier for Victoria’s Secret) haven’t even began to make progress while Nike completely failed in ALL three categories. Who can get even worse than Nike? Brands like GAP, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Diesel, and Versace who seemed addicted to the toxins and have repeatedly declined the detox commitment.

Indonesian models presenting Eco Fashion from  3 different designer  Felicia Budi, Indita Karina, Lenny Agustin during "Detox Catwalk" on damage paddy field area in Rancaekek, West Java province on Sunday 22 March 2015. [Photo Greenpeace/Hati Kecil Visuals]

Indonesian models presenting Eco Fashion from 3 different designer Felicia Budi, Indita Karina, Lenny Agustin during “Detox Catwalk” on damage paddy field area in Rancaekek, West Java province on Sunday 22 March 2015. [Photo Greenpeace/Hati Kecil Visuals]

Greenpeace has dedicated themselves to tackling urgent issues facing waterways such as the dispelling of hazardous chemicals into water bodies. While signing on 70 different companies clearly highlights that getting companies or governments to commit isn’t the easiest task. A common reaction is that what they are asking for isn’t feasible. Will there be resistance? Yes. But can your efforts make a change? Definitely! Responsibility lies with all of us, from governments to their citizens. Greenpeace has shown it’s a possibility, the question is are we ready to speak out and demand better water health in our own countries?


 “Fashion is an inherently creative and artistic art form yet it is becoming known for all the wrong reasons. There is no reason why a craft which has a limitless ability to innovate technically and creatively cannot apply that same intelligence to work in a way that is not ruthlessly pro profit, but pro-people and pro-planet. This Manifesto is key to implementing the change we all need – designers, buyers, influencers and manufacturers alike.”

Samata Angel-Fashion Designer / Campaign Director for Red Carpet Green Dress

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