Communicating actionable sustainability information to consumer: The Shades of Green instrument for fashion

By Linda Turunen, Aalto University

Looking for a sustainable fashion item? It seems there is a lot to choose from. There are organic cotton t-shirts, items with ethical working conditions secured and Öko Tex certifications attached. Not to forget hoodies made of recycled materials and minimal water usage or Co2-compensated production processes. Sustainability seems to be everywhere.

You can find trustworthy third-party certifications, but you may also come across free form sustainability messages that aim to guide you to make “better” and “more sustainable” decisions. Navigating in the current jungle of sustainability communication, it requires a high level of knowledge and critical approach from the decision maker. Yet, the narrow and specific certifications are often incomparable. Is it possible to position fashion items in the continuum that ranks the level of sustainability?

Photo by Harper Sunday on Unsplash

In search of bringing some clarity for the multi-faceted sustainability aspects of textile and fashion items, we aimed to develop a middle-ground tool, the Shades of Green instrument that structure the available sustainability information in a simple yet comprehensive and actionable way to ease the consumer decision making.

The article discuss about the development of an instrument that maps both the environmental and social aspects throughout a product’s lifecycle,focusing on design, materials, production, support services and working conditions. Making the evaluation actionable, the instrument was designed to have three levels: the minimum integration, the advanced integration, and the sustainability innovation, demonstrated as a staircase with different shades of green. Many of the fashion items do not qualify and remain outside of the instrument levels, on the brown level.

The logic of the instrument was grounded in previous literature, after which the iterative instrument development process has taken place, including stakeholder interviews, interactive workshops with company representatives and consumers, as well as product tests with companies.

The Shades of Green instrument’s logic and reasoning has been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production. The instrument’s development work and further operationalizations are still ongoing, and it is part of the six-year FINIX research project funded by the Strategic Research Council under Academy of Finland.

Publication: Turunen, L. L. M., & Halme, M. (2021). Communicating actionable sustainability information to consumers: The Shades of Green instrument for fashion. Journal of Cleaner Production297, 126605.

Short information about the instrument can be found here:

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