There’s a lot being said about fast fashion and the negative impact of our big clothing brands. With the Fashion Revolution also making headlines this year, H&M’s World Recycle Week comes at an exciting time.
The idea is for people to take in their used and old clothes, accessories, shoes and fabrics to their nearest H&M store, for recycling instead of throwing it away. (The fact that people would throw away clothes rather than donate or recycle is in itself still shocking. Surely there’s enough information available about the impact of all of this waste? But that’s possibly a post for another time.)
The idea is to prevent the huge amount of waste the fashion industry generates. Almost all our clothing, footwear, etc can be recycled into something new, rather than going to a landfill as much of it does.
Recycling just one t shirt saves 2,700 litres of water (the carbon footprint of producing a new one).
Watch this video to see what H&M plans to do with it:
I decided to try out this idea at my local H&M store – all of them are participating, which is great. The timing couldn’t be better for me, since I’m going through a huge spring clean, and also need a few work clothes.
For every bag of clothes you take in, the Hungarian branch gives you a 500 forint (roughly 1.5 Euros) discount voucher.
I have to add here that I haven’t bought new clothes in at least a year and a half. It just so happens that my beliefs in being a conscious consumer align well with my hatred of going into various shops, trying everything on in a small and badly-lit room, and lugging it around a mall. I would much rather pick something out online (in my PJs) or at most, while meandering around a nice vintage or second-hand shop.
So this in itself was an adventure, but an exciting one since it’s not a traditional shopping trip.
Do some preliminary digging into H&M’s ethos and you’ll definitely notice some red flags. We’ve all seen their ad campaigns for their Conscious Collection, and know they try to use organic cotton where possible. This is several steps ahead of many other cheaper brands out there, of course.
Their latest Sustainability Report shows a mixed bag of impact and results. The growth rates of their sustainable cotton use (out of their total cotton use), and the share of sustainably sourced materials (out of all their materials) has shown a strong rate of increase from 2011 and 2012, respectively. However, the rates themselves, when compared with the goal of 100%, is too weak for their impact to be significant enough in terms of their overall carbon footprint.
H&M’s carbon emissions for 2015 however, when compared to the previous year, show an impressive drop of 56% – and this compares to a tiny fall of 4% in 2014, and increases the two years before.
There’s a push for external certification of these credentials – all of H&M’s denim products are now scored well by Jeanologia’s Environmental Impact Measurement Tool – a software which helps brands increase the sustainability of their supply chain in denim.
On the other hand, various links in their supply chain show that while the group’s intentions may be good, their progress in the past few years (reports go back to 2009) has not been as strong as it could be – or as the group would like.
The progress in factory sustainability globally has risen by only 6% in four years, and the percentage of sustainable raw materials of their total raw materials is very low. Along their value chain, impact is mixed; where they have a low climate impact (12%), the social impact is high – as in the raw materials stage. Their fabric and yarn production, with a high social impact, shows one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. H&M doesn’t work directly with the producers of their fabric, but through intermediaries such as the Natural Resources Defense Council to help improve performance. However, the environmental impact is still significantly high, with greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution in the production of cotton startlingly high, and largely unchanged (the group has had a 6% impact on their own water usage in 2015).
It’s important to also recognise that not enough high street brands care about their production enough to measure their impact and their value chain’s ethics. There’s certainly great room for progress and the fact that H&M still produce cotton instead of more conscious alternatives like hemp in their clothing, is an example of this. But as a whole, and measured against their competitors, H&M is still doing more to raise awareness of the industry’s carbon footprint. With World Recycling Week as well, buying new clothes at a time like this, from a company that at least tries to counter its harmful impact, is better than choosing other brands.