H&M Faces Allegations of Greenwashing in the US Over Sustainable Material Claims

H&M faces allegations of greenwashing in the US over claims of using sustainable materials in its “Conscious Choice” collection.

H&M, the global fashion retailer, is under fire in the United States due to a proposed class action lawsuit that accuses the company of greenwashing through its marketing of the “Conscious Choice” range as a collection featuring sustainable materials. The 55-page case argues that H&M’s claims of sustainability are misleading, as the clothing in the Conscious Choice collection is made from recycled polyester, a material deemed unsustainable and environmentally harmful.

The heart of the complaint revolves around the use of recycled polyester in the Conscious Choice collection. The lawsuit contends that clothing made from this material is far from being sustainable because it eventually ends up in landfills or incineration. The process of mechanically recycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into polyester fibers weakens the material, rendering it unfit for further recycling or reuse. In essence, this “downcycling” goes against the principles of a true circular economy, which advocates reusing and recycling materials “like-for-like” to minimize waste. The case highlights the importance of using sustainable materials that can be repurposed without losing their quality and contributing to environmental degradation.

High Synthetic Content and Allegations of Premium Pricing

In addition to the issues with downcycling, the lawsuit raises concerns about the Conscious Choice Collection’s high synthetic content. According to the complaint, the collection contains 72% synthetic materials, a higher percentage than H&M’s main collection, which stands at 61%. This further undermines the brand’s claims of sustainability, as synthetic materials are known for their negative environmental impact and contribution to microplastic pollution in the ocean and food chains.

Furthermore, the lawsuit accuses H&M of charging a premium for the Conscious Choice collection, exploiting consumers who seek genuinely sustainable products. The plaintiffs and Class Members argue that they would not have paid a higher price for the collection had they been aware of the actual environmental impact of the materials used.

A Call for Genuine Eco-Friendly Practices in the Fashion Industry

This is not the first instance where H&M has faced scrutiny over its sustainability claims. The Norwegian Consumer Agency previously warned H&M Group against using environmental claims based on the industry tool Higg MSI, which was deemed insufficient to support Norrøna’s environmentally friendly marketing claims. The Higg consumer-facing transparency program was subsequently halted as a result.

In the midst of these allegations, it is evident that consumers are increasingly demanding true sustainability from companies. The case against H&M serves as a reminder for businesses to be diligent in their claims of sustainability and ensure that they use genuinely sustainable materials that align with circular economy principles. As the fashion industry grapples with the challenge of becoming more eco-friendly, it is imperative that brands prioritize the use of sustainable materials and transparently communicate their efforts to meet consumers’ growing environmental consciousness.

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