The brand H&M is a master at greenwashing. We see it time and time again with all their new bright and shiny “sustainability” practices or clothing lines. And once again they’re back at it again this time partnering with actress Maisie Williams as their new “global sustainability ambassador.”
First of all, what does that even mean? Absolutely no shade to Maisie but is she qualified? How much does she know about sustainability and sustainable practices? And if she did know even a bit she would be able to see right through H&M’s greenwashing tactics.
I like to give brands the benefit of the doubt when it comes to sustainable claims. But I know that being sustainable is super trendy right now and every fast-fashion brand is seemingly releasing “eco-friendly” clothing lines or offering some clothes made from recycled materials.
This is 100% a tactic to prey on young folk just learning about sustainability because they still get to enjoy trendy items and not spend any more than they’re used to spending on clothes. And no doubt by partnering with Maisie Williams will bring in a whole new crowd of consumers.
With an entire page dedicated to sustainability on their website, H&M’s claims can seem pretty convincing. But as we know with the internet anyone can write anything without evidence to back it up. Here are some of H&M’s biggest claims.
H&M’s Greenwashing Claims:
“Close the loop”
H&M claims that their garment recycling is the biggest of its kind. I’m not entirely sure what that means. They didn’t say the biggest in the world so I’m sure what “kind” they’re exactly talking about.
A closed loop is basically a loop in which an item travels. You can see in the diagrams below the difference between a closed loop and a linear loop which leads to pollution. A closed loop is what sustainability practices should strive for and can work with any object, theoretically. A closed loop can also be achieved through thrifting and/or upcycling clothing to keep it out of landfills.
H&M first suggests caring for your clothes by washing them less and ensuring longevity. Which is solid advice and something I recommend frequently. Washing our clothes too often causes the fibres to pull and wear down more easily.
The next option they give when you no longer want a piece of clothing is (from ANY brand) is to take it to an H&M store to be recycled and they’ll give you 15% off your next purchase. You know, so you can keep buying their poorly made clothes and returning them to be recycled over and over again. Not exactly the loop I think they’re going for here.
They even boast that 29,000 tons of clothing were recycled through their programs in 2019 equaling about 145 MILION t-shirts. This is definitely not something to brag about as it shows just how poorly their clothing is made if that many of them need to be recycled in a single year.
But as Liv from thesimplyliv pointed out on her Instagram, H&M can recycle all the clothing in the world but the problem remains that H&M is producing too much clothing too quickly (like $4 billion of unsold clothing)
Until H&M slows down their production and push of trendy items they will never be sustainable. We can’t recycle our way out of waste. Even if they recycled 100% of clothing they receive, according to their third party partner who recycles the clothing, only around 35% of it is recycled at all.
“Find out where your clothes are made”
Overall, this area of their sustainability claims page is super vague. It basically says that on each product you can see where the item was made. I went looking and clicked n a few items to see and they basically give a list saying that the item was made in one of those places. Again, very vague.
They also give a little spiel about how their factories have to sign their “strict” sustainability commitment and that all workers are paid a fair wage. It’s important to note that they didn’t say a “living wage” nor do they specify the amount in which they’re paid or any other details regarding the factories, health care or other important details on the treatment of their garment workers.
But when you dig further it gives an estimated number of how many workers are in that specific factory and the one I clicked on said it had about 3,000 workers. I don’t know exactly how many factories H&M has around the world but I’m gonna guess it’s a lot. and if they’re bordering that number of employees fr each factory, there is no way they are paid fairly. Not at the speed of production that they have or the prices they sell their clothing at. It’s impossible.
Because that’s why ethical fashion is expensive. If you’re paying 3,000 a living wage, say $20 an hour for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week that’s 2.4 million dollars a week for just that one factory. And as I said before they could have hundreds of factories with that many workers.
I can’t think of a single ethical fashion brand that has or needs that many factories/workers. You only need that many if you’re producing clothing at such an alarming rate. And that amount of clothing produced is in no way sustainable no matter how much of it you “recycle”. Not to mention that I genuinely don’t think H&M can afford to pay their workers that much while selling $5.99 t-shirts and a $6.99 tank top from their “conscious” collection.
Which their “conscious” collection is a whole other problem. How can you boast about your entire brand’s sustainability practices but yet have a dedicated conscious collection? If you’re aiming for sustainability, your whole brand better be sustainable, not just a select few items.
Their goal is to be making all of their clothing from recycled or other sustainable materials by 2030, claiming that 57% of their clothing already is. This is a great goal. But when they say that their conscious collection is “made with a little extra care for the planet” they’re saying that the majority of their clothing is made with little to no care for the planet.
And frankly, it’s not enough. Even if H&M was making all their clothes from sustainable materials it still wouldn’t be enough. It all comes down to the rate of production. By making their conscious collection and trying to “close the loop” they are merely trying to put a bandaid over the waste and damage they’ve made and continue making. They’re focusing attention on a few good things they’re implementing to distract us from the giant footprint they are leaving behind. It’s simply not enough. Fashion this fast cannot be sustainable. It’s not a sustainable model and cannot last or do any real good.
With Fashion Revolution week taking place April 18 – April 25 this year, I urge you to call H&M out. Write them emails, call them out on social media. The only way H&M and other fast fashion brands can keep getting away with their unsustainable business models is by consumer demand. And consumer demand is powerful. Instead of consuming more clothing this week, I urge you to demand real, sustainable change.
I hope this post encourages you to do a little more research when coming across sustainable claims coming from any brand, but especially fast-fashion brands. Please don’t forget to share this post and follow me on Instagram for daily low waste living inspiration.