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H&M SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS: A STEP FORWARD OR GREENWASHING?

Clothe waste is a big problem nowadays. The clothes that go into landfills pollute the lands and the waters and the ones that are burnt release gases that are dangerous to our health and deplete the ozone layer. Indeed, most of the clothes we buy today are made with non-qualitative materials coming from the fast fashion industry.


In 2013, The Swedish brand H&M launched the Garment Collecting program that aims to encourage people to recycle their clothes.


H&M proposes its customers to bring back a bag of old clothes into the stores in exchange for a discount (10%, £5, 5€…). Their partner, I:Collect would collect the clothes to sort and recycle as much clothing as possible.


This campaign is based on the principles of 3 Rs:

  • Rewear, aiming to sell again those old clothes as second-hand

  • Re-use, aiming to upcycle those clothes

  • Recycle the materials

It has been a success for H&M as 29 005 tonnes of unwanted clothes have been brought back to stores in 2019.


I thought that the campaign’s communication materials were really good: they brighten diversity and inclusivity while raising awareness on sustainability and encouraging customers to recycle their clothes.

I really liked the video ad narrated by Iggy Pop, I think this is very progressive.




However, reading about this campaign has raised a few questions:


Firstly, are the clothes brought back into stores really recycled?

Indeed, fast fashion is everywhere today, and the materials used cannot always be recycled or are easily damaged, so how can we know that H&M fulfil its promises?


Then, I guess that this campaign can be seen as a step forward in sustainability, but what about the production of H&M clothes and other fast fashion brands: are they still wasting water, releasing greenhouse gases, using harmful materials as many? And what about the workers’ conditions and wages in sweatshops? In my opinion, this campaign involves some woke-washing.


Finally, I'm not sure that encouraging the purchase of new clothes by offering discounts is an effective method to reduce the social and environmental damages of fast fashion.

It always comes back to a circle, but not necessarily a virtuous nor a vicious one, I think it is a bit of both. Recycling is encouraged but the problems linked to the production of clothes are still present and profits often outweigh sustainability.




The brand also proposes a conscious collection of environmentally-friendly clothes made with at least 50% of durable materials. However, on H&M corporate website, there are no labels to certify that the brand uses organic cotton for example (GOTS, Demeter…). Same, there are no labels to certify the reasoned use of toxic substances in the process of clothes recycling (GRS, Oeko-Tex Step...). Without proof, how can we know that what H&M claims is true?

Additionally, some of the products proposed as "Conscious" do not seem very clear to me: t-shirts made of viscose when it is not necessarily a sustainable material depending on its origin, is the 50% of the clothing made from sustainable material to get the H&M green label really respected?


With this lack of information and the unclarity of the existing one, is H&M doing real environmentally progressive acts or is it just marketing with some greenwashing?




I do really think that some fashion brands are making a real effort and want to progress but unfortunately I feel like sustainability became a trend, a new sales strategy. So it always comes back to profit making rather than real progress.


This is a subject that I find very interesting and I would love to learn more about it.


Thank you very much for reading me, I would love to hear your thoughts about it!




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