• Home
  • News
  • Fashion
  • H&M 'greenwashed' its sustainability scores, says investigation

H&M 'greenwashed' its sustainability scores, says investigation

By Don-Alvin Adegeest



Image: H&M Group

In May last year Higg, a sustainability software platform that helps companies measure impact, launched scorecards as part of the Higg Sustainability Profiles and Higg Index Materials. In simple terms, it offered a scorecard to provide a standardised way to compare performance across different products and brands, providing shoppers with an at-a-glance way of identifying products with reduced environmental impact.

H&M, a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAP) that developed the Higg measure, has been using the Index and scorecards since their inception on its e-commerce product listings, giving each item a score based on the environmental impact of the materials used to make it.

An investigation led by Quartz, a global news resource for purpose-driven professionals, says H&M’s environmental scores are “misleading” and “outright deceptive.”

H&M on its website detailed the metrics as scores ranging from “baseline” to “3.” Baseline scores are given to products made from conventional materials and scores of 1,2 and 3 are given to products made with materials that have lower environmental impacts. On each product, customers will also see detailed data on impacts relating to water use, global warming, fossil fuel use and water pollution.

Over 50 percent of H&M products with high scores that claimed garments had less environmental impact were no more sustainable than comparable garments made by competitors, says Quartz.

H&M incorrectly scored its products

“H&M displayed data that gave a totally wrong picture of a garment’s impact on the environment. Those errors came about because the retailer’s website ignored negative signs in Higg Index scores. For instance, a dress with a water-use score of -20 percent —as in, it uses 20 percent more water than average—was listed on H&M’s website as using 20 percent less,” Quartz said.

Last week H&M removed all the scorecards from its website after Quartz shared its findings.

H&M's swift response is perhaps an indication that however dedicated fast fashion companies are to employing sustainable practices, the sheer volume of goods they produce are just not compatible with reducing impact. It is also what many consider greenwashing. H&M said the scorecards were to show transparency, however the Higg Index is facing its own controversy after H&M was called out by Norway’s consumer protection agency in June for misleading customers and using the Index as a marketing tool.

Anna Palmquist, Sustainability Specialist at H&M Group Expansion, is responsible for driving the store's sustainability performance. Sharing the results on its website, H&M scored 70,8 percent on the Higg’s Index at brand level. Oddly H&M’s product team either made miscalculations or had intent to mislead with the jarring product scores that it listed on its website. Quartz said over 100 women's clothing scorecards included errors.

Higg scorecards don’t provide the full picture

The Index fails to assess if garments are biodegradable or if any microplastics are released. Philippa Grogan of Eco-Age told the Sourcing Journal that the Higg Index only looks at a selective part in its assessment of garment sustainability, and would have to be measured from design to execution to a garment’s end of life, to fully assess its lifecycle and impact.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition last Monday said it would urgently review its data and methodology. The last review was eight years ago in 2016. The SAC has come under increasing scrutiny as it has championed synthetic materials made from fossil fuels over natural fibres, like wool, cotton and even leather. For example, the SAC is champion of recycled polyester, a cheap synthetic fabric many of its members, like H&M, use in their collections. While H&M does not have a materials filter for polyester on its website, a search found over 10,000 items either containing or being fully made of polyester.

For now, the best way consumers can embrace sustainability in fashion is to buy less and buy longer lasting products.

Article source: Quartz, Sourcing Journal