The fashion industry knows it has an environmental problem – but the way some companies are handling their contribution to global warming seems to indicate that real change is still a long way off.
An April 2022 survey conducted by the Ashkin Group found that nearly 80% of American shoppers consider a product’s environmental impact before purchasing it. About 70% of respondents said they would change their shopping habits if they learned a brand was not performing sustainably.
“This last point is crucial,” wrote Stephen Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group, alongside the survey’s findings. “We have thousands of companies that produce Green products. But do the companies that make these products operate in a green and sustainable way? That’s something consumers now want to know.”
It makes sense for brands to start adapting to the growing interest in sustainability, but buyers should still beware. “Sustainability,” “green,” and “clean” are buzzwords starting to pop up around marketing, but how the consumer interprets the words versus what the company means by the words can sometimes differ.
The law of fashion noted that unlike “organic” in the food industry, which comes with a certification process overseen by the US Department of Agriculture, there are no government guidelines for when a brand can call itself “sustainable.”
According to the Ashkin Group study, most buyers consider “sustainability” to mean “reducing waste, recycling, using environmentally friendly materials, reducing (greenhouse) gas emissions, and engaging in ethical labor practices.” This is what they look for when they shop.
Instead of authentically changing practices to match what consumers want, some companies are engaging in “greenwashing” practices. Greenwashing is when a brand misleads buyers into believing that the company’s practices and products are more sustainable than they actually are.
That’s why Chelsea Commodore filed a complaint against fast fashion giant H&M on July 22 in New York. In the complaint, Commodore accused H&M of greenwashing with “deceptive ‘environmental cards'” associated with clothing in the brand’s Conscious Collection.
Commodore noted that “most” of H&M’s products marketed as sustainable are “no more sustainable than items in [its] main collection, which are also not stable.”
In The Know reached out to H&M for comment on the lawsuit, and the Media Relations team responded with, “We are taking the allegations very seriously and are looking into them thoroughly. We ask for your understanding that we have no further comment to share at this point.”
Commodore refers to an investigation conducted by quartz which found that H&M’s environmental scorecards were sometimes “completely misleading”. quartz noted that H&M no longer has the scorecards listed on its website after the company was notified of the investigation’s findings.
“In the most egregious cases, H&M showed data that was the exact opposite of reality.” quartz reported. “Of the 600 womenswear scorecards on H&M’s UK site last week, more than 100 of them included mistakes that made less durable garments look off-putting.”
The scoring system H&M uses for its clothing is called the Higg Index, which has been adopted by other brands and has been criticized by environmental groups as being deliberately misleading to consumers. The Higg index, which is described by Vogue as “the leading sustainability assessment tool in the fashion industry”, is said to be facing a ban in Norway after growing complaints against greenwashing.
The Fashion Sustainability and Social Responsibility Act, which was proposed in the New York State Assembly in October 2021, was hailed at the time as a landmark achievement in the fight for a standard for sustainable fashion. The act relies on the Higg Index.
H&M also points out on its website that it is the first global fashion retailer to launch a clothing collection program – which began in 2013 – as a reason why the brand considers itself sustainable. The program takes unwanted clothes and purportedly resells them as used clothing or remade them into other products. H&M describes the program as “closing the loop.”
“In 2020, we collected 18,800 tons of unwanted clothes and textiles through our Garment Collecting program,” says H&M. “That’s the equivalent of 94 million T-shirts.”
Recycled clothing still ends up in landfills. Even if H&M’s Garment Collecting program was a huge success, overproduction continues to be a massive problem in the fashion industry. In 2019, H&M produced 3 billion garments – including $4.1 billion worth of unsold clothes.
“When it comes to fast fashion, putting resale at the layers of the product offering is just lip service when it’s not accompanied by a meaningful commitment to change,” Erin Wallace, vice president of integrated marketing at resale site thredUP, told the Good on You site. .
Good on You, which researches and rates companies on how sustainable they really are, wrote in an Instagram post that the best way to tell if a brand is green is if it’s in fast fashion.
“No fast fashion business model can ever be sustainable,” the post reads. “Discovering them is just a distraction [the] the fact that these brands collectively produce billions of discarded plastic clothes.”
The post Fast fashion giant H&M accused of ‘greenwashing’ in new lawsuit appeared first on In The Know.
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