Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 10 April 2020

Greenwashing on the red carpet: does celebrity sustainability actually make a difference?

Vegan menus, eco-fashion choices and recycled red carpets – is there more to a green awards season than lip service alone?

Jane Fonda wearing a 2014 Elie Saab dress at the 92nd Oscars award ceremony. Reuters 
Jane Fonda wearing a 2014 Elie Saab dress at the 92nd Oscars award ceremony. Reuters 

The recent round of award ceremonies was buzzing with talk of how best to save the planet and what actors and stars could do to get involved.

February’s Bafta Awards in the UK saw guests offered a sustainably sourced, largely vegan meal for the first time ever, and also requested that attendees follow a dress code of ‘sustainability’. The The British Academy of Film and Television Arts even sent out a “helpful guide” put together on the topic by the London Collage of Fashion.

The red carpet for the event was itself recycled, while single use plastic was banned across the venue. Even the traditional ‘gifting bag’, a fail safe way to lure people to attend, was replaced by a recycled plastic wallet. On winning the gong for Best Actor at the event Joaquin Phoenix used his speech to call for the world to embrace veganism, while re-wearing his Stella McCartney suit, as he had previously pledged.

Joaquin Phoenix collected his Oscar for Best Actor wearing the same Stella McCartney suit worn to every other award ceremony. Rachel Luna, Getty Images
Joaquin Phoenix collected his Oscar for Best Actor wearing the same Stella McCartney suit worn to every other award ceremony. Getty Images

Not to be outdone, at the recent 92nd Academy Awards Jane Fonda rocked up wearing an Elie Saab dress from 2014, staying true to her vow to not buy any more clothes, while Saoirse Ronan wore a Gucci dress that had been recut from the dress she wore to the Baftas.

Lea Seydoux’s Louis Vuitton dress was made with sustainably sourced fabrics, as part of the Red Carpet Green Dress initiative, itself founded in 2009 by Suzy Amis with the aim of encouraging conscious choices for the red carpet, knowing said looks would be photographed and talked about in articles like this one.

That same idea is also behind Livia Firths’ Green Carpet Challenge, that pushes the clothes designers to create red carpet worthy looks that are ethical and/or sustainable.

Saoirse Ronan attended the 92nd Annual Academy Awards in a Gucci dress recut from her Bafta's outfit. Amy Sussman, Getty Images  
Saoirse Ronan attended the 92nd Annual Academy Awards in a Gucci dress recut from her Baftas outfit. Getty Images

While this is all highly commendable, is it relevant to us mere mortals? Will Phoenix’s anguished pleas we all adopt a vegan diet, while wearing an expensive suit, in a privileged environment, and clutching a coveted prize, really inspire us to ditch the meat? Will Fonda re-wearing a designer dress encouraged the rest of us to re-visit the cheaper, not as well made equivalents in our wardrobe? Does anyone actually care that Ronan essentially wore the same dress to two events, thanks to the skill of a team of experts at her disposal?

But, the argument goes, at least everyone is now talking about these issues.

Perhaps that is the biggest take away from all these well meaning, but slightly pointless gestures, that more famous people are using their fame to highlight what is arguable the most pressing emergency of our age, the ever growing threat to the planet we live on.

Actors have a long history of using the award platform to raise issues. Think of 1973, when Marlon Brando famously turned down an Oscar for The Godfather, instead sending Native American Sacheen Littlefeather onto the stage in protest on how Native Americas were portrayed on film.

In 2015 Patricia Arquette used her Best Actress award speech to demand equal pay for women, while the Harvey Weinstein scandals prompted the Oscar Time's Up protests of 2018, that saw women take to the red carpet wearing only black in solidarity.

So perhaps the only thing that has really changed about being environmentally conscious is how it is being perceived. What used to be called being thrifty, is now being held up as saving the planet. What was once criticised for being unfashionable, or lazy, is now being celebrated.

Thanks to a palpable shift in thinking, now if Jane Fonda, or Kate Middleton for that matter, re-wears an old dress, the reaction is one of support instead of criticism. While Fonda may not yet have achieved the level of favour afforded the Duchess of Cambridge, she is staying true to her reputation for standing up for what she believes, one dress at a time.

Updated: February 12, 2020 01:46 PM

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