These shorts are part of the 2021 Spring Conscious collection at H&M. The principle behind “H&M Conscious” is that at least 50% of each piece is made from more sustainable materials, which is why I was surprised to see these shorts are 100% viscose. Having scanned through some other Conscious products, it seems to me that this “Conscious” branding is somewhat misleading. Many items in the collection are Conscious only because they contain organic cotton which debatably has no environmental advantage over standard cotton. The most damaging thing H&M are doing though has to be the speed with which they bring out new styles, lines and collections. This means that huge amounts of their clothes are actually never sold (there’s even a Swedish town which is powered solely by incinerating new H&M clothes) because it would damage their business model too much if they sold these clothes too cheaply or gave them to developing countries.
Make up your own mind on these shorts, but here’s some more info
100% viscose. Viscose is a type of rayon made by extracting cellulose from wood. According to H&M “We are aiming to ensure that all wood used to make cellulosic fibres comes from sustainably managed forests or plantations. We are also actively working with developing more sustainable processes to create viscose like fibres.” It makes a big difference to the rating of this product whether or not the wood used is sustainably sourced, but this statement doesn’t give us much reason to believe the raw materials in this product are sustainably sourced. Still, using wood rather than cotton is definitely a positive. It would be great to have a stronger pledge, or a true statistic regarding when H&M will sustainably source all their wood, or what the proportion currently is.
The cellulose extraction process uses a high concentration of toxic chemicals that pollute the air and water. Recovery of these chemicals is typically very low, so the process constantly requires new inputs. However, newer production methods allow very efficient chemical reuse and recover up to 90% of the solvent. Typical dyeing and finishing processes additionally require high use of water, energy, and chemicals. So overall H&M’s current viscose rates quite poorly, but it’s good to see that they’re researching new processes and the possibility of using recycled products instead of raw materials.
These shorts were made in Bangladesh.
“H&M does not own any factories. Instead, our garments are bought from around 800 independent suppliers, mainly in Europe and Asia. We only work with partners who share our respect for people and the environment, and who are willing to work with us to improve their practices. All suppliers and factories must sign our strict Sustainability Commitment, which includes requirements for fair wages and good working conditions for all.” This sounds fantastic but, because H&M is sub-contracting, they are unable to regulate conditions & wages and ensure their Sustainability Commitment is adhered to. But they are clearly making an effort and are not comfortable simply exploiting others for their own profit, which makes H&M stand out among popular high street retailers.