Ever wondered how eco friendly H&M conscious really is? So did we, which is why we thought we’d write an honest review.
H&M is the second largest fashion brand in the world. They are using many new and innovative ways to become more sustainable, which we have written about in more detail here.
The problem is, their business is still based around fast fashion. Until they stop promoting low quality clothes that are designed to last only for one season, can we ever say they are eco friendly?
Well, their conscious collection is an attempt to change exactly this. Can we honestly say that H&M’s conscious collection is sustainable or is HM conscious greenwashing the truth?
H&M’s Conscious line is designed to help move the brand towards a sustainable future.
Started in 2010, it was the first fast fashion giant to make clothes with sustainability as a priority.
To qualify as conscious, clothes must contain at least 50% sustainable materials like organic cotton or recycled polyester. The only exception being recycled cotton, which for quality reasons currently only contains up to 20% recycled cotton.
Through their Conscious Collection, H&M is attempting to make eco-friendly fashion affordable and mainstream. For this, you can only applaud the brand.
Despite best efforts to become more eco-friendly, most shoppers still don’t believe that H&M is good for the environment.
So, the question stands.How eco friendly is H&M Conscious?
H&M Conscious Collection is increasingly becoming more eco-friendly.
Conscious clothes are now sold year round, but twice a year a new Exclusive Conscious Collection is released. These collections often involve exotic new materials which will end up in H&M’s main collections.
Bold steps have been taken to innovate, turning food crop waste into fashion that you can wear. Last year new fabric releases included Hemp Biofibre™ made from oilseed hemp crop waste, a cellulosic fibre called Naia™ Renew, and Vegea™ a vegan leather made from grapes. Sounds pretty exotic, right?
Another eco friendly material announced in 2020 was that future Conscious Collections would use a blend of 50% circulose, 50% sustainably sourced wood in what could be their most sustainable material to date.
H&M are also pioneering development of sustainable methods to dye and print garments. Using cutting edge techniques, such as plant based pigments, closed loop printing and biotech, H&M are able to create bright and vibrant designs with less impact on the planet.
But sometimes tried and trusted eco fabrics are best. Here H&M Conscious is again doing well, providing shoppers with an ever increasing range of sustainable garments using organics, recycled materials or linens.
This reflects their ambitious plan to use 100% recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030. It seems then that H&M Conscious are on track to becoming eco-friendly and hit their sustainable criteria.
In 2019 H&M announced that 57% of materials used were sourced in a more sustainable way that’s kinder to the planet.
This included an impressive 95% of cotton which was sustainably sourced, either using recycled cotton, organic cotton or through the Better Cotton Initiative. According to the Textile Exchange, this made H&M the biggest buyer of preferred cotton in the world.
By requiring a minimum of 50% sustainable materials to be used in their Conscious line, H&M is increasing awareness for sustainable fashion whilst also making it easier and more affordable for consumers to get their hands on it.
What’s arguably just as important, they are also showing other fast fashion retailers that being eco friendly is important. This is helping bring an outdated industry towards a more sustainable future.
Sounds like H&M Conscious is definitely eco-friendly. But before you rush out and add H&M Conscious to your wardrobe, there are a few things you should know that might make you think twice.
Sadly, the answer does seem to be yes.
In 2019 Norway’s Consumer Authority began investigations into H&M’s sustainability claims.
They stated that H&M are using ‘an incorrect or otherwise misleading representation which is likely to influence the demand for or supply of goods’. What this means is that any brand misleading customers in any way through marketing or advertising is illegal in Norway.
Bente Øverli, deputy director general at the Consumer Authority explained in a statement to Quartz that, ‘Since H&M are not giving the consumer precise information about why these clothes are labelled Conscious, we conclude that consumers are being given the impression that these products are more ‘sustainable’ than they actually are.’
The Consumer Authority states that H&M are unable to prove claims about how eco-friendly their business is.
H&M provide no evidence which describes how their Conscious Collection is manufactured, nor do they mention the treatment of workers, wages or working conditions. Surely the way workers are treated is worth mentioning if you have called the collection “Conscious”.
As you can see from the following extract taken directly from their website, the explanation of what their conscious collection means is brief to say the least.
So, what do we count as Conscious? To qualify for a green hangtag, a product must contain at least 50% sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester — but many of our garments contain more than that. The only exception is recycled cotton, which can only make up 20% of a product due to quality restraints. We are, however, working with innovations to increase this share as soon as possible.
To evaluate the materials, we use third-party data and external certifications.
This is the extent of info we are given about their conscious collection. There is no proof, no hard evidence of improvements and nothing to measure progress. There is no mention of how clothes are made, nor about the conditions that factory workers are making clothes in.
Even when reviewing the materials used, we are still left wondering what this actually means.
Using up to 50% sustainable material (or 20% for recycled cotton) is a good start, but what about the remaining 50%? This could contain any type of material blend and still be considered conscious. There is also no mention of where these fabrics come from, how they are recycled, the carbon footprint of these items vs traditional ranges, the impact they have on the environment or chemicals required to make them.
Considering much of their marketing is around this collection, it seems strange that they don’t do more to explain what it is.
It seems then that H&M Conscious might be greenwashing some of the facts. But to truly understand why or how H & M is greenwashing, we don’t have to look far.
H&M’s business model is set up around creating short lived fashion pieces that only last one season. This is the central idea behind fast fashion - the production of low quality garments, constantly created around hype cycles and then thrown away when no longer needed. Sadly it’s also not hard to find problems with their other sustainable initiatives.
Take H&M’s recycling scheme for example. The Guardian has crunched the numbers and calculated that it would take roughly 12 years for H&M to use 1000 tonnes of fashion waste in their clothing, which is roughly the same amount of clothes the company produces every 48 hours.
What’s more, the third party company I:Collect is responsible for recycling donated clothes. Reports have been released saying that only 35% of these clothes are actually recycled at all. Any determination to recycle starts to seem a tad like greenwashing.
With retailers tending to overorder, a product of it being cheaper to double volumes from manufacturers and deal with excess later, H&M was stuck with £3.4bn of unsold clothes in April 2020. With this number having likely incresaed, and a reluctance to discount prices for risk of decreasing the value of the brand, we are left wondering what happens to this waste?
Historically a significant portion has been landfilled or burned, a typical fast fashion practice. In 2017 Vasteras power plant in Sweden was able to go fossil fuel free, partially due to being able to burn 15 tonnes of H&M’s unwanted clothes.
Norway’s Consumer Authority director Elisabeth Lier Haugseth even warned consumers that they may well be being misled by “greenwashing” statements which are being pushed in the company's adverts. Afterall, researchers from the Stern Center for Sustainable Business show that sustainable products often experience a sales boost compared to non sustainable items.
What to find out more about why is H and M greenwashing? We have written a full review of how sustainable and ethical H&M really are.
In short, no. H&M is definitely not eco friendly yet, and they look unlikely to become eco friendly until they change their business model.
Despite ambitious schemes designed to recover old clothes, innovative new materials and new tech, H&M is still adding more to the problem of excess fast fashion than they are removing.
H&M Conscious Collections are based around the same short lived seasons that their regular collections are made for. The difference being is that they contain some sustainable material.
Yet even these supposedly sustainable items consist of material blends that won’t decompose and can’t yet be recycled. They are not made to a high quality and likely won’t last for years to come, the real secret to dressing more sustainably.
Touching back on the point of ethics, the Fashion Transparency Index gives H&M one of the highest rankings of its supplier list. Yet this doesn’t mean we know any more info about their supplier policies, auditing process and remediation. Nor does transparency equal better labour rights.
In fact, almost none of H&M’s supply chain is certified by labour standards which protect worker health and safety, living wages and other basic rights. H&M also failed to meet commitments to pay 850,000 garment workers a fair living wage by 2018.
At the time of writing, H&M has over 1,100 new items on their UK women’s site alone. How can anyone honestly say that a truly eco friendly business sells that many new items at one time. H&M at its core remains a brand very much geared towards fast fashion.
Until these fundamentals of the brand change, we cannot say that H&M Conscious is eco-friendly today.
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