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H&M Conscious: The paradox of sustainable fashion

Swedish retailer H&M is one of the world’s largest fast-fashion brands. As the store became notorious for being unsustainable, the retailer began to consider the environmental needs of the planet by creating H&M Conscious.


The new collection offers a line of clothing that pledges to become 100% “climate positive” by using renewable energy and upcycled materials, according to the H&M Group website.


H&M store window displaying trendy garments.

“[Climate change] consequences will affect our entire planet and everyone living on it–making it a key challenge to all industries, including fashion,” H&M’s website said.


The problem lies with the fact that H&M is a high volume business. Significant environmental strides can go unnoticed when dealing with a company of its size. The retailer still functions under an unsustainable, fast-fashion design.


Comprehensive analysis of H&M Conscious prove that there’s still a decent amount of waste stemming from both the production process and the disposal of the clothing.


“Greenhouse gasses are a class of gas that happen to trap heat in the atmosphere,” environmental analyst Jake Leech said. “The higher the concentration that those gasses are in the atmosphere, the more heat they trap, the hotter the earth gets.”


From the H&M Group website, explaining sustainable motives.

The fashion industry accounts for around 5% of all man-made greenhouse emissions, most of which come from synthetic microfibers such as polyester and nylon, according to a research report published in 2018. H&M Conscious has made no ban against these materials.


In a recent article published by Fashionista, Senior Fellow at World Resources Institute Nate Aden put that 5% into perspective. He explains that it’s equivalent to the environmental impact from the aviation industry or all the planes flying in the world.


Because polyester is cheap and resourceful, it’s become pervasive in the fast-fashion industry. The production of polyester contributes to greenhouse gasses, and inevitably global warming, on a universal level. 


“Greenhouse gasses have natural forces that are increasing the concentration in the earth,” Leech said. “They aren’t necessarily toxic per say, but because they have this climatic effect, they’re a big deal.”


H&M’s 2018 sustainability report proves that polyester, nylon and cotton are still heavily present in the “conscious” garments. While upcycling some of these materials is a step in the right direction, the garments are being produced in excessive amounts. This annihilates the collection’s “sustainable” goals.


“Basically, as emissions increase and the concentrations increase in the atmosphere, you start to heat up the earth’s surface, and you start to heat up the lower atmosphere,” Leech explained. “That generally causes global warming.”


The retailer’s low-cost, high-volume business model is conceivably at odds with its own ethical goals. Disputing the current fashion industry’s ethos is a crucial fight for global warming.


Scientific ethicalities aside, H&M Conscious has adopted the typical fast-fashion rhythm. These retailers focus on the quick production of garments. A major part of this high turnover is the disposability of the clothes.


H&M logo outside one of their U.S. locations.

“I like to shop at thrift stores,” sustainable fashion advocate Charlie Streurer said. “It’s better to buy something cheap than at a place like H&M because you’re helping the problem of fast-fashion. Those clothes aren’t just being dumped in a landfill.”


With poor quality and low cost at the forefront, H&M's consumers are met with limited wearability even though the fabrics are supposed to last decades.


“I look for longevity in the clothes I buy,” Streurer said. “Before I buy anything, I spend the time to look into what I would be able to wear for a long time.”


At the core of its efforts, it’s clear that H&M Conscious is genuine. However, it still poses a significant threat to the health of the planet. Perhaps that’s what H&M doesn’t want their consumers to be conscious about.


By Sofia Jas

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