This dress is a perfect example of greenwashing in fast-fashion. Though the line emphasizes “nature” in its marketing, the dress, and the company that produces it, does not uphold the sustainability they claim. For example, in their list of goals, they include a “circular ecosystem for product assortment” and a “net positive impact on biodiversity,” which are phrases that have virtually no meaning. This suggests that their commitment often lies more so in appearing green, rather than actually creating a cohesive, step-by-step outline that at the very least, explain the meaning of such goals. The majority of H&M’s sustainable work is future-oriented, which has the potential to influence the industry as a whole, if they adhere to their claims. It would be most beneficial for the consumer to avoid the brand if possible, perhaps thrifting as an alternative.
This H&M style is part of their hand-painted collection, which is advertised as “giving the wearer a feeling of connection to nature.” The dress is made from nearly equal parts linen and cotton, and underneath the product description, H&M includes the details of the materiality. Before even describing the fabric, H&M takes the defensive, and writes, “cotton is the fiber we use the most, but it’s a challenging material that needs a lot of water grow.” Rather than providing transparency on the actual makeup of the cotton, H&M deflects blame, in a way that makes their use of unsustainable cotton seem justified. They continue by describing the three sources of cotton used company-wide, which are recycled, organic, and cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative. That said, they do not specify which cotton is used in the dress, nor do they explain just how much water or energy is used in their production of the material. Their assessment of the linen used is not much better. They advertise the fabric durability, but they admit to not using an organic version of the material. This means that H&M is knowingly utilizing chemical pesticides and fertilizers in their linen production, polluting the areas surrounding those factories. Ultimately, the main issue with the materials used by H&M is their lack of transparency and accountability. Despite having an entire website dedicated to their sustainable endeavors, the real impact of the fabrics used is not disclosed. H&M receives half of a planet because they source from the Better Cotton Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to helping cotton farmers switch to more sustainable methods of production.
H&M operates on a mass-scale, meaning that all of their garments are produced in bulk. The company does not own any factories, and rather, they collaborate with over 800 independent suppliers to produce the clothes. The H&M group, the umbrella corporation for H&M and other brands, includes a page dedicated to their “sustainable production.” They assure readers, who are most likely investors, that the company is heavily involved in vetting the factories they buy from. The H&M group describes itself as a “customer” to these manufactures, language that distances them from accountability in any wrongdoings in production. In outlining their “buyer standards,” they detail the questions asked in gauging a manufacturer’s ethicality. In these questions, they emphasize “planning capacity,” which in theory would regulate seasonal items so as not to overproduce or overwork. In theory, this would be a sustainable measure, as it shows empathy toward manufacturers so as to promote efficiency and positive working conditions, and because it would theoretically reduce waste. But in reality, H&M group’s claims allow them to evade accountability for their rapid trends, the source of any need for “planning capacity” in the first place. Most importantly, H&M admits to not being fully aware of whether or not they are “contributing to any human rights violations.” This means that the company is so removed that they don’t even know whether or not all of their factories are up to the codes they had previously outlined. In conclusion, H&M’s description of production is a strong example of greenwashing, evading accountability for their misconduct.
The company’s business model is to create demand even when there is none, so that their customers constantly feel like they need to buy more. Such a model in itself is the antithesis of sustainability, as it directly follows a cradle-to-grave lifespan. In this way, H&M sets the precedent for corporate greenwashing, distracting consumers from the glaring reality of their mass production. That said, I hold out hope that the company’s words are a commitment to betterment. H&M has made it clear that they want to be a “green” company, and have set goals for themselves that, if achieved, could create. Anna Gedda, H&M’s head of sustainability, organizes a team dedicated to seeing that the extensive, detailed goals are reached. H&M’s Sustainability Performance Report for 2020, an 84 page document, highlights not only the issues within H&M’s current methods of production, but ways in which they hope to change. For example, they include a document that explains, in plain terms, their climate impact at various stages in the supply chain, highlighting the fact that their current methods of fabric/yarn production are unacceptable. In their “vision and strategy” section, they stress that these changes must be made at a more rapid pace, and highlight the fact that they are responsible for influencing change in the industry as a whole.