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H&M’s Sustainability Profiles, Environmental Claims

What's sustainable about fast fashion?

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H&M’s Sustainability Profiles, Environmental Claims

After an investigation by Quartz revealed that fast-fashion giant H&M was misleading consumers on the environmental impact of some of its garments, the retailer quickly removed all the so-called sustainability profiles from its website, the business news site reported in June.

“The rapid retreat by H&M … adds to the argument that there is no such thing as sustainable fast fashion,” Quartz observed in an article outlining its findings and the company’s prompt response.

Yet H&M continues to make misleading claims about the environmental attributes of certain items, including through a “Conscious” collection that consumers can still browse through on its website, according to a class-action lawsuit filed against the company in July.

The lawsuit alleges the sustainability profiles – i.e., the environmental scorecards that Quartz found made many pieces appear more sustainable than others even if they weren’t – are “part of a larger greenwashing campaign.” For example, the lawsuit claims, the “Conscious” collection contains items that are “comprised of indisputably unsustainable materials, like polyester.”

Products containing sometimes even up to 100% polyester are not sustainable, as polyester does not biodegrade, sheds toxic microfibers, and is not recyclable.

(Of note, while the lawsuit asserts that H&M states that its “Conscious” collection contains “at least 50% sustainable materials,” the company currently claims on its website that “at least 50% of each piece is made from more sustainable materials.” Emphasis added.)

The lawsuit also takes issue with claims that H&M’s recycling program, which features “garment collecting boxes” in stores, will prevent clothes “from going to landfill,” arguing that recycling solutions either do not exist or are not commercially available on a large enough scale.

It would take H&M more than a decade to recycle what it sells in a matter of days.

In response to a request for comment, an H&M spokesperson told TINA.org, “We are taking the allegations very seriously and are looking into them thoroughly. At this time, we have no further comment to share.”

The bottom line

H&M, which added “Game of Thrones” star Maisie Williams as a global sustainability ambassador in 2021, seems eager to broadcast a sustainability message. But consumers should ask themselves: Can a business model that is based on volume and keeping up with rapidly changing trends ever really be good for the environment?

Find more of our coverage on greenwashing here.


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