H&M’s Sustainablity Report 2023 – Bee&Sons
Buy better. Love longer. Recycle

H&M’s Sustainablity Report 2023 came out last week. H&M produces 3 billion garments per year and is the 8th most valuable apparel brand worldwide.

I really want to love the report. H&M’s designs always look lovely. Its prices are always really reasonable. And since 2013, H&M’s founders have donated £127million to accelerating solutions for a socially inclusive and planet positive textile industry. So it’s gotta be a sustainable option by now, right?

H&Ms agenda is all about human rights, climate strategy, greenhouse gas emissions and materiality. Their greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 22%. And they’re on target for 2030 when they expect to reach a 56% reduction. They work with communities, policy-makers, the media, experts and innovators. They’re helping build a windfarm in Bangladesh, for heaven’s sake.

So I tootled over to the website with great enthusiasm. 

On the first page of H&M’s knitwear – which includes 36 options of a total of 756 – all the sweaters contained synthetic fibres derived from fossil fuels.  Some had around 20% polyester, some were 100% acrylic – none were 100% natural. 

(Cue sound of hand slapping over eyes.)

Q: Why is polyester a rubbish fabric?

A1: It sheds micro plastics, before, during and after it’s lifespan that leach into our water supply then into our food chain. They’ve found micro plastic in human placentas. I’m not exaggerating. 

A2: Polyester doesn’t biodegrade like natural fibres.  It releases toxic chemicals into our ground water. Our polyester dresses will be on earth longer than we are. Even if you’re 12. 

A3: It’s derived from oil. It requires huge amounts of energy to create. 

H&M’s website also includes its other brands, like ARKET – the most sustainable one. Here there were some natural fibre options – all more expensive because, that’s the thing about polyester – it’s really cheap.

Q: Since it’s so cheap, what are you wanging on about? There’s a recession going on.

A: Fast fashion is cheap but not designed to last. You’d do better saving for something more expensive because in the long term, it will last longer.  What’s cheap for the consumer is expensive on the environment.

So then I searched for 100% wool and 100% cashmere on H&M’s website – and no options came up. Instead I was offered a sequined dress made of 95% recycled polyester.

Q: Is recycled polyester made from PET (single use plastic bottles) a good idea?

A: No. Single use plastic bottles are best kept in the drinks industry where they can be partially recycled again and again. (Recycling ‘single use anything’ gives the an excuse for continuing to create single use.)

Once PET becomes a fabric – the recycling ends. The industry body TEXTILE EXCHANGE has just launched FOSSIL FUEL FASHION Campaign, to the end of use of PET as a feedstock for polyester production. Sign up. It’s a no brainer.

In 2022, the fashion industry made 47 million tonnes of polyester clothing which amounts to 125 million tonnes of C02 – the highest amount of greenhouse emissions of any single fibre. 

Back to H&M. Lots of brands have been trying to capitalise on consumers’ concerns around sustainability by making false claims that amount to greenwashing. I don’t think H&M are lying. I think the family behind the brand is genuinely concerned about the impact of the choices it makes during production of the collections, from a social and environmental perspective.

However – I don’t believe that H&M accepts responsibility for its garments from cradle to grave. If a fabric contains synthetic fibre, it is damaging the environment. It’s not enough (and slightly ridiculous) to have non plastic packaging but clothing derived from oil. 

Finally – H&M has set itself a goal for doubling its revenue by 2030. The brand believes that it is possible to do this despite intending to simultaneously cut greenhouse emissions in half. It doesn’t say anywhere that it’s going to cut it production and limit its overproduction/waste. Just to remind you, H&M produces 3 billion garments per year. 

If we all stop buying shit, maybe they’ll stop making it.