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H&M’s ‘Conscious Actions’ in 2011

The CSR season has started. Loads of CSR reports are made public every year in spring – mainly by fashion brands. H&M is among the first to bring out its 2011 report ‘Conscious Actions’. With this report, the brand shows the world that it wants to be the world’s eco fast fashion leader.

A report stuffed with impressive numbers gives us the impression that H&M really does its best to achieve this goal. In the past year, the brand used recycled polyester to a stunning equivalent of 9.2 million plastic bottles. It also produced almost 2.5 million pairs of shoes using lower-impact water-based solvents. Furthermore, in 2010 H&M outstripped Walmart as the biggest buyer of organic cotton, and they have kept this number one position throughout 2011.

Yet, the question remains whether fast fashion can actually really be sustainable. When a brand sells about ten collections a year – like H&M does – this also leads to a fashion item being tossed online casino into the litter bin about ten times as quickly. Being the world’s second largest clothing retailer, they sell approximately 550 million fashion items a year. While the production of organic cotton does require far less water than conventional cotton, it still takes a whole lot of water to grow the organic cotton required for these amounts of clothes.

Therefore, we took another close look at H&M to find out to what extent the new report actually affects the sustainability ranking of the brand. H&M in fact gains 2 extra points, for the following reasons:

  • Material use: the percentage of organic cotton has increased up to 7.6% of the total cotton collection.
  • Labour conditions: H&M is highly transparent about its audits in supplier factories. On average, in 2011, at least one audit has been carried out in every factory. According to H&M, in 77% of these audits the factory proved to have met their Code of Conduct entirely. That is a high percentage. Still, it has to be noted that the audits seem to be carried out by the brand itself, and not by the independent Fair Labor Association – even though H&M is a member.

Also worth mentioning, is the ‘Energy Efficiency Improvement Programme’ that H&M started in 45 of its supplier factories. This demonstrates that the brand lived up to the promises it made in its 2010 CSR report.

H&M now has 10 out of 16 points. Word of advice on how to improve on these last points: we would like to see clear carbon footprint reporting. In its 2011 report, H&M provides a carbon footprint relative to its sales. This does not say anything about a possible decline of the total emissions. In fact, it makes us quietly suspect that the emissions in effect haven’t decreased at all…

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