H&M, a fast fashion company, is notorious for its exploitative practices and is featured in almost every list of brands most harmful to the environment. But are they really that bad? I mean, they are trying to mend things in their own way, right? With their new H&M conscious line, they are focusing on being eco-friendly and ethical, right? Well, spoiler alert. They really aren’t. In fact, they are comfortably practising the age-old tactic of hoodwinking customers through greenwashing. So now the question arises. Is H&M conscious sustainable? Actually, what exactly is this line? Let’s delve into the many secrets and trickeries of big corporates like H&M.
What is H&M conscious collection?
While I was scrolling through H&Ms website, I came across something very intriguing. The H&M conscious collection. I was pleasantly surprised. Is H&M finally giving eco-friendly consumers like me a sustainable alternative? Can I finally wear the latest fast fashion trends while also not harming the environment?
According to H&M’s wesbite, products in their conscious line contain at last 50% of sustainable materials such as recycled polyester or organic cotton. By buying these products, you the consumer, earns conscious points. By the way, you can use these points to earn discounts in other products.
H&M also launches a Conscious Exclusive collection twice a year in which they incorporate new eco-friendly materials and technologies which are then used in their main collection. They introduced three new fabrics in 2020: Hemp Biofibre, made from oilseed hemp crop waste, Naia Renew, a cellulosic fibre and Vegea, vegan leather made from grapes.
Well, that sounds pretty good. Big corporates are finally realising the errors of their ways and laying down the building blocks towards a more sustainable future. But trust me guys, behind the curtains, the situation is entirely different.
How sustainable is H&M conscious?
I am not blindly being a skeptic. It is unfortunately a fact that big corporates like H&M are purely driven by profits and do little to nothing to save the environment. Because, well exploitative and unethical means of production are way more profitable than sustainable ones.
According to a report in June 2021 titled “Synthetic Anonymous“, H&M’s conscious line has allegedly been found to contain a higher percentage of damaging synthetic materials compared to its main line. Moreover, the report identified H&M as the worst offender when it comes to false green claims with 96% false claims.
H&M reported that 90% of its recycled polyester comes from single-use plastic bottles. Except, this is also a false solution created by big brands to lure you into believing they are ethical. Once recycled plastic is turned into clothes, they cannot be recycled again. Essentially, these clothes will now either be dumped in landfills, incinerated or thrown away in nature. All of this is extremely deterimental to the environment. Secondly, by turnng plastic bottles into clothes, you are removing them from the circular recycling loops wherein they can be used as plastic bottles again. Plastic bottles can be reused multiple times (unlike when used to make clothes) reducing the production of virgin single-use plastic for creating new bottles. Finally, use of these plastics does not stop the much bigger issue of microplastics that shed during cloth production that are highly polluting to the ocean, air around us as well as the food we consume.
H&M’s recycling programme is also not without its flaws. While they confidently state in myriad of their ads that they will use fabrics donated to them to create new clothes, the reality is that only 35% of donated garments are actually utilised. Donated clothes are more often than not resold in markets in countries like Kenya or dumped in landfills. In fact, only 0.7% of the clothes manufactured by H&M was recycled material according to their own report in 2018, essentially proving that even their recycling programme is not really sustainable.
While H&M confidently states in its ad campaigns that it aims to reduce waste and we, the consumers can help them do so by shopping from their conscious line, the reality is that shopping from H&M doesn’t reduce waste but add to it. Most of the products in the conscious line are made of blended materials such as polyester, acrylic, wool etc which do not break down easily. These products will not be recycled but end up in a landfill (as plastic recycled for clothes cannot be recycled again) and so your noble quest to shop more sustainably goes quite literally to waste.
If brands were truly sustainable, they would discourage consumerism and overconsumption. However, H&M does not want that. They want to earn as much profit as they can. In fact, their entire existence relies on customers buying more than they need which is why their conscious line is marketed in such a way as to tempt you into consuming more. According to research by the Stern Center for Sustainable Business, products marketed as being sustainable sell much faster than products which are not. Through tactics like conscious points and vouchers, H&M is leading you into consuming more and more. They use conscious points to lure customers into purchasing not only garments from their supposedly sustainable line but also their low-quality fast fashion clothing designed not to last.
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The H&M conscious collection has been criticised by Norway’s consumer watchdog in 2019 for their misleading marketing tactics and for providing insufficient information on the sustainability of its collection. H&M has also repeatedly been accused of greenwashing.
Is HM conscious Greenwashing?
In an episode of Simpsons titled ‘The Old Man and The Lisa’, the evil millionaire Mr. Burns decides to promote recycling in order to reinstate his business empire. All the townspeople including Lisa Simpson, an environment activist help him in his noble cause. However, when taking a tour of his factory, Lisa is appalled to witness that he had been using recycled material in order to catch fish and other sea creatures to sell slurries. She realizes that when he tries to be good, he is even more evil and damaging to the planet which is basically what profit hungry brands like H&M are like.
Greenwashing in simpler terms is when a company advertises its products and policies as being eco-friendly while continuing their exploitative practices behind the curtains. It is a form of manipulation and trickery taking advantage of consumer’s shifting preference towards environmentally conscious brands. Motivated by the incentive to make profits, boost sales and preserve brand relevance in a changing world, companies blow their budget on amazing marketing instead of actually doing anything to build a sustainable business model. What’s worse is that most of these companies abuse the rise of eco-consciousness to conceal the more harmful aspects of production that go on behind the scenes such as poor labor conditions, animal abuse and environmental degradation. Of course, the more they do this the better they get at deceiving you.
H&M is notorious for its abysmal labour conditions exploitating children, underpaying workers and subjecting its labourers to horrific unsafe conditions. As something that markets itself as ‘conscious’, is it not H&M’s duty to safeguard its workers? In 2018, H&M had 4.3 billion dollars worth of unsold clothes which was 7% more than the year before. H&M disposes this unsold inventory by incinerating them to make way for the newer fashion trends. Again, for a company that unrelentlessly advertises how green it is and how it is trying to reduce waste, their actions are completely contradictory.
H&m is a pro at manipulating customers into believing they are ethical and eco-friendly. They conveniently shroud their exploitative practises in the guise of being sustainable and conscious. They are misdirecting your attention by giving you something to look at. Behind the curtains, they continue to be unethical. They distract consumers by making them applaud H&M for doing the bare minimum and honestly this bare minimum is ending up being more deterimental for the environment (much like Mr. Burns in The Simpsons).
There is something morally wrong in tapping into the guilt of consumers and using the principles of psychology and marketing to manufacture their consent and make them take economic decisions they otherwise would not. You know the consumer wants to save the planet. You know they want to create a change so instead of doing it yourselves, you make the consumer a scapegoat, put the onus on them to be sustainable, give them false hope and make them believe they are being eco-friendly, when in reality you are just manipulating them into buying your products to gain profit.
Whats even worse is that they exploit bright young climate change activists in their ad campaigns in a way mocking the very real issues these children stand for. The ugly truth is that climate change unevenly affects different strata of society. It is the poor, marginalised and tribal people that feel its immediate effects and not the top 1% of society who actually own these big corporates. They have absolutely no incentive to be sustainable even though it is them who have the power to create a significant change. They do not feel morally obligated to save the planet as it comes at the cost of reduced profits. So, the only reason H&m even has a conscious line is because of the rise in environmental awareness amongst its consumer base. It definitely does not come from an intrinsic belief in sustainability but its only here to preserve its brand relevance.
It is important for us, the consumers to recognise it and make actual sustainable choices. Practise thrifting, rewear your clothes as many times as possible, dont give in to transcient trends, try not to dispose off any garments and donate them to the right places (like orphanages), buy from ethical brands (check out our site to shop more ethically) and make an active effort to recognise when companies are greenwashing.