How can leading the fast fashion industry and supporting the buy & discard mentality ever be sustainable?
During a recent CSR lecture I attended, one of the University of Reading professors added H&M to his list of the most progressive companies when it comes to sustainability, and I disagreed with him.
When I questioned him why, he mentioned the company’s clothes recycling scheme. He wasn’t aware that the recycling scheme guarantees a £5 voucher that can be spent in-store but customers must spend at least £30 to redeem it. So… you give back some clothes you don’t want and most likely never needed in the first place, only to buy even more clothes you probably will not want next month and most likely don’t need anyway. Er…
There is another question here – how much of the 7,600 tonnes of garments collected by H&M in 2014 will end up in landfill, most likely somewhere in a developing country?
Someone in the audience has argued that H&M is only responding to customers’ needs. But are they really “needs”? Do people really need so many collections each season? And how can H&M claim to be sustainable if it creates these so-called “needs”?
The company is proud that “the width and variety of the H&M collections mean customers can always find something to suit their style and their wardrobe”. It also means that, to keep with the demand created by H&M itself, it ends up producing at least 600 million items annually (!) for its 3,200 stores in 57 markets worldwide, and plans to open a net total of 400 new H&M stores and nine new online markets this year alone. I don’t think any clothes recycling scheme – even one that doesn’t encourage you to buy more – can deal with such numbers.
“Fundamentally, there is a disconnect between the idea that you are selling a tremendous amount of clothing in fast fashion and that you are trying to be a sustainable company,” Linda Greer, the Natural Resources Defense Council′s senior scientist and director of Clean By Design who has helped H&M clean up its chemical-intensive textile dyeing and finishing process told EcoWatch. The “Who’s Really Paying for Our Cheap Clothes” article describes some inconsistencies pointed out by environmental and social advocates in the most recent H&M sustainability report.
“Conscious is our plan for creating a better fashion future. It’s built on seven commitments and hundreds of Conscious Actions.” says H&M website. These “hundreds of actions” are supposed to make the company look like they are “doing something” – but wouldn’t just produce less do more good than all these initiatives put together? It is dealing with consequences – which of course is better than nothing –rather than addressing the problem at the core.
The aforementioned professor muttered that he would have to “look into it in more detail” and perhaps amend his list. For me, it will take much more convincing to consider H&M as one of the sustainability leaders.