As fashion brands continue to engage in sustainability efforts, scrutiny from environmentally-conscious consumers has also increased. When Burberry announced an unexpected commitment to environmental sustainability, the public was skeptical. People were quick to point out the company incinerated over $38 million in goods less than a year ago. It’s pretty difficult to get away with greenwashing these days. H&M was no exception. The media slammed the company for promoting its Conscious collection with little indication of how it was more sustainable.
H&M’s Conscious Collection
The only information in the public domain about H&M’s Conscious collection is this snippet from its website:
“Our Conscious products contain at least 50% recycled materials, organic materials or TENCEL TM Lyocell material – in fact many contain 100%. Due to technological limitations to ensure product quality and durability there is one exception – the maximum share of recycled cotton we can currently use in a garment is 20%. We are however, working with new innovations to increase this share as soon possible.”
Journalist Katherine Martinko called the description “a joke” and “a prime example of greenwashing.”
But it’s not just media and journalists that aren’t buying H&M sustainability efforts — it’s regulators too.
Regulators Slam H&M
In Norway, an independent governing body called the Consumer Authority (CA) enforces the Marketing Control Act, designed to prevent marketers from misleading customers. Reportedly, the CA is investigating H&M over its sustainability claims related to Conscious.
More explicitly, the deputy director general at the CA told Quartz:
“Since H&M are not giving the consumer precise information about why these clothes are labeled Conscious, we conclude that consumers are being given the impression that these products are more ‘sustainable’ than they actually are.”
But these are just suspicions — that’s not enough for the CA to impose fines or sanctions on the company. Apparently, H&M will speak to the CA and “see how [H&M] can be even better at communicating the extensive work” it does, according to company statements.
At the time of this writing, there has been no conclusive evidence that H&M broke any marketing laws. However, the PR snafu that came as a result of H&M’s lack of transparency should be a lesson learned. That is, consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever before and companies can rarely get away with greenwashing anymore.