H&M discovers it’s not easy being green
A recent exposé on fast-fashion retailer H&M alleges that the company’s environmental promise is undermined by greenwashing.
H&M was using a scorecard system to inform customers about the environmental soundness of each product, but a report by Quartz claims that more than half of the scorecards portrayed products as being better for the environment than they actually were. The report also found some instances in which H&M’s scorecards allegedly gave information about the sustainability of a product that was completely opposite from the truth.
H&M has removed the scorecards in the wake of Quartz’s report. The scorecards were created based on the Higg Material Sustainability Index (MSI) by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). The trade group has paused the use of the consumer-facing transparency scorecards in response to a complaint by the Norwegian Consumer Authority and is reassessing their methodology. (It has not paused the full use of the Higg MSI.)*
A watchdog group found that the scorecards use only averages of the environmental impact of types of textile, rather than giving the full environmental impact of the manufacture and sale of a particular finished piece of clothing, Just Style reported.
H&M’s transgressions may go beyond that, though, with some of the product information shown on Quartz mixing up data — touting products that used 30 percent more water as using 30 percent less water, contradicting the SAC version of the scorecard.
The fast-fashion industry has begun to make changes to its model in response to a perceived emerging customer focus on environmental and sustainability concerns.
Developments in the fast-fashion world, however, have called into question the extent to which customers truly care about the environmental posture of the retailers they patronize.
Most notable is the emergence of Chinese fast fashion app Shein as the most searched for apparel app, and most downloaded app, in the U.S. The $800 billion company has been thriving despite drawing the ire of environmentalists and even competitors like ThredUP.
Shein recently announced a donation of $15 million over three years for a charity in Ghana meant to help those working in the secondhand clothing market in that nation’s capital city, the second largest secondhand market in the world, according to The Guardian. Shein’s announcement was alternately applauded and derided as greenwashing.
*In response to an email from SAC, RetailWire has updated this article to reflect that the trade organization has paused only the customer-facing usage of the scorecards, rather than pausing the use of the Higg MSI as a whole.
- Quartz investigation: H&M showed bogus environmental scores for its clothing – Quartz
- SAC halts consumer programme on ‘misleading’ green claims concern – Just Style
- Fast-fashion giant Shein pledges $15m for textile waste workers in Ghana – The Guardian
- ThredUP asks consumers to boycott Shein’s pop-up shop – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What can other chains with an environmental/sustainable promise learn from what H&M is now dealing with? Do you see this controversy having a lasting impact on how the chain is perceived?