The great H&M conscious fashion swindle?

While finding time looking at new H&M sustainability report,  a recap of last year might be helpful

Sustainable fashion seems to be the biggest  statement of the twenty-first century and of course, a massive opportunity for companies renewed their communication, brand statements, values and position through green marketing and PR.  One of the largest fast fashion chains throughout the world H&M released their sustainability report yesterday, followed by a PR campaign  “on the size of Congo’s GNP. While telling an imaginary story “on how to save the world” media acts as children still waiting for Santa Claus. It seems impossible understanding how blindly media buys into constructed stories made by communication agencies around the world without questioning. Either media get paid to publish stories or H&M the greatest illusionists.

The 2012 sustainability report was disappointing; misleading and incomplete. While waiting, getting to know 2013 sustainability reports, this post is a recap of 2012. My critics probably never get noticed by readers or media. However, I feel obliged  sharing my view as fashion design in the sustainable era has been my profession for more than ten years. By definition, sustainable living is taking no more potentially renewable resources from the natural world than can be replenished continuously and not overloading the capacity of the environment to cleanse and renew itself by natural processes.

What is sustainability? Resources are sustainable if they cannot be used up; for instance, oil resources are not seen as renewable because of its slow and gradually decreasing whereas the wind can be harnessed to produce energy continuously. In terms of fibre, a sustainable fibre is one that ideally involves completely renewable chemicals in its manufacturing process and non-fossil-fuel-derived energy (renewable sources of energy only) in the production processes.

 Is the concept of  reduce-reuse-recycle fully understood?

What concerns is that most brands mostly concentrate on finding new ways to produce with ‘”less negative” impact on the environment while be able to increase the number of units sold, increase turnover and earnings. Finding news to produce with less harm is a very narrow focus on actions that seem good for the environment and easily bought by consumers” “how many million bathtubs of water saved,” “less pesticide” and “increased use of more sustainable fibre” and so on. This is great. However, only “conservation” (use natural resources wisely) and miss first, “buy and use less!” Nevertheless, a strategy whereof the mission is to reduce the negative impact by also reduce production units while still having been satisfying earnings demands a brand-new  way of looking at things (cradle to cradle, etc.)

Reduce-reuse-recycle recap

Reduce = consumption and manufacture less.
Reuse = swap, repair, transform, second hand and remember “a man’s trash is another man’s treasure” etc.
Finally the least favorable solution recycled = raw materials making

The great HM conscious fashion swindle?

H&M cannot be regarded as an environmental friendly clothing brand because their business strategy promotes and works with fast fashion as their business model.
H&M uses a conscious fashion strategy because it makes consumers focus away fast fashion.
H&M are doing a lot of good initiatives and commitments within their conscious fashion strategy, which is a step in the right direction.

Fast fashion biggest enemy is sustainability

Fast fashion biggest enemy is efficiency, sustainability, and preservation; fast fashion mission is to move clothes rapidly in order to continue cyclical consumption. Whereof sustainability is slowing down the cycle. H&M communicate heavily on their  green profile, and it has succeeded now being regarded as one of the leading green companies both from media and fashion conscious consumers, nevertheless, as long as they promote and sell fast fashion they should be questioned.

While looking at last year’s sustainability report  I get an urgent desire go shopping rather than not, maybe  this is the point? almost like flicking through a glossy magazine, stylish ads, H&M  soon presenting their seven commitments, which are great. Nevertheless, afterward finding promises illusionary for example while reading .

Misleading figures and facts

H&M state on page 74; “commitments six use natural resources responsibly,” “almost 78 million bathtubs of water saved through our use of Better Cotton in 2012 alone.” I am impressed 78 million bath tubs of water most probably feels the Atlantic sea; however, while trying to figure how I could compare water saving. I cannot find the reference point making it possible telling if it was good or bad (the fact saving of water is less than 1%).

Suddenly, my skepticism increase as I start thinking if more figures presented  as misleading.  Continue Page 93;”provide fashion for conscious customers; environmental impact of T-shirts throughout its life cycle, water use of T-shirts 4.3 cubic metre. Why suddenly uses the volume cubic metre when a litre is elsewhere?  Is it done with purpose as most people feel 4,34m3 sounds much less than 4350 litre? (55 bath tubs)  It’s obvious why H&M chose cubic metre instead of litres. I think it’s  “wise of H&M “not talking to too loudly on how much water + pesticides a regular t-shirt  H&M require + how many produced per year will make it uncomfortable for  consumers.

The last two example of misleading information I would like sharing on the page 9, conscious action’s highlights from 2012;   450 million litres of water saved for production of denim and other water-intense garments. Once more I cannot find the reference point which makes it impossible finding out total amount of water saved  in percentage?

Page 74; “about 140.000 Kg of pesticides less used due to our use of more sustainable cotton,” sure it sounds fantastic?  Still no reference point, therefore, useless information, nevertheless, most people  think it sounds nice. I happen to know that it takes  approximately 30 grams of pesticides manufacturing one average  H&M t-shirt

H&M growth strategy

Growth for the sake of growth is not sustainable. Growth strategy is important, nevertheless, not discussed in the sustainability reports. HM’s growth strategy is mostly shareholder information and business talk.

“HM growth target remains intact. The growth target is to increase the number of stores by 10-15 percent per annum with continued high profitability, while at the same time increasing sales in comparable units. For the financial year 2012/2013 a net addition of approximately 325 new stores is planned. Most of the brand-new  stores during 2013 are planned to open in China and the US.”  An annual growth rate of 10 – 15% are aggressive and if companies around the world achieved the same growth rate as H&M, the economy, shortage of natural resources would collapse in less than 50 years.

Let’s say H&M continue to grow.  According to H&M growth rate strategy they will open estimated1500 new 2013 – 2020(when 12% growth per annum is used) . 2020 is also the year when they  aim to use 100% more  sustainable fibre in garment production.

Organic cotton prices vs. conventional cotton in the future? Organic cotton is more expensive than conventional cotton and since the demand is increasing for Eco cotton, the price will rise. Today (2013) organic cotton is approximately 30% more costly , transportation will the most certain rise afterward,  what will then happen to H&M business model? Finally, is it sober to believe that H&M will reach their mission of 100% more sustainable fabric in 2020 at the latest?  I believe  it´s a unrealistic goal, nevertheless, great PR

How to understand sustainable development

Most companies doesn’t have a clue when claiming being green and responsible, making products that are environmentally friendly and even fully sustainable is not enough and just one dimension. The two other are often neglected; social and individual well-being, human rights, discrimination and wealth are by no means in balance.

The tremendous difference between the developed and less-developed countries is impossible to understand. Every-day  companies launch new products followed by massive communication and PR campaigns. The increasingly mass of consumers jumping on the sustainable bandwagon is fine. However, dangerous as it makes us believe and trust companies selling  their green story. Sustainable development and the environmental challenges can be probably best be understood by making a global village with 100 people representing Earth. This is how the world would look like (sources Handbook of sustainable textile production. Marion I. Tobler-Rohr)

The tremendous differences between people’s wealth and well-being  are by no means in balance 

57 Asians
8 Europeans
13 Americans (North and South)
22 Africans
52 women
48 men
30 white
70 non-white
30 Christians
70 non-Christians
89 heterosexuals
11 homosexuals
6 persons(all US citizens) own 59% of all wealth all living in USA
80 persons living in buildings
70 an-alphabets
50 are undernourished
1 person are dying
1 person born
5 persons own a computer
1 person has university degree

With this background on mind clamming  sustainability is hard, especially thinking that most companies only making an effort where they can maximize profit, innovate green products  to sell more. Therefore, accepting, for example, the massive PR from companies such as H&M clamming a green profile, and still promote fast fashion is sad. There are surly many companies doing exactly as H&M, however, their irritating loud voice in media convincing regular consumers that fast fashion is OK  must be stopped.

Sources of information
H&M conscious actions sustainability report 2012
H&M are playing tricks with their figures in the sustainability reports
Handbook of sustainable textile production. Marion I. Tobler-Rohr

Kenneth Lyngaas
Sustainable fashion designer & eco-philosopher Sustainable fashion dedicated the twenty-first-century green living, design for change through system thinking, eco philosophy, spirituality, and sustainability.
Kenneth Lyngaas
Kenneth Lyngaas
Kenneth Lyngaas
sustainableFASHION// dedicated the twenty-first century sustainable community and living. Every day, I deliver selected news on Eco design across the Internet. Most people appreciate an update without searching latest news themselves. Therefore, it’s already served. Don’t miss it, subscribe!
%d bloggers like this: