Environmentalism and Consumerism Don’t Have to Be Antonyms

H&M’s consistency in keeping up with the trends and reasonable prices always lures me in. When I recently walked into one, a mysterious large cardboard box stood at the front of the store. But when I noticed that H&M has started a clothing collection and recycling program, I began to think about sustainability and shopping. Is H&M’s campaign just a ploy to make us feel less guilty about shopping, or is it really an environmentally friendly measure?

h&mconscious box

Most of us don’t associate going to the shopping mall with sustainability. The big department stores aren’t exactly keen on carrying products made from recycled materials, and the ubiquitous plastic carrier bags are an environmentalist’s nightmare. However, one way shopping can lessen its impact on the environment is by decreasing clothing sent to landfills.

We all know that clothes in good condition shouldn’t be thrown away when they can be given a new life. But H&M is going beyond simple clothing swaps, and allowing damaged goods to be reused, recycled, or converted into energy. Since H&M seems to be a bit vague when it comes to using clothing to “produce energy,” I became wary of the possibility of greenwashing.

After browsing H&M’s website, and found that they are doing a lot more to lessen their environmental impact. H&M released a sustainability report detailing their efforts to be ethical and climate smart, to promote the Three R’s (reduce, reuse recycle), to use natural resources responsibly, and to strengthen communities. H&M even ranked number three (beyond Unilever and Nestlé) in Radley Yeldar’s “How Does It Stack Up?” sustainability report this year. Radley Yeldar, a communications company in the U.K., releases an annual report comparing British companies with the highest market capitalization (sum of all the values of the shares a company has). Whew! H&M isn’t just greenwashing.

Why are H&M’s efforts so much greater than other popular retailers? Well, H&M is a European company. No surprise there, Europe has always been ahead of the U.S. when it comes to the environmental movement. In fact, the average American produces three times as much carbon as does someone living in France, and significantly more carbon than Italians and Brits. So H&M has been on the sustainability train for a couple of decades now. H&M’s head of sustainability, Helena Helmerrson, has stated that “improving the environmental and social sustainability of our supply chain has been a major focus of our work since the 90s and it will remain a core part of our programme.” So it saddens me that we as Americans aren’t using our competitive nature to surpass Europe in regards to sustainability.


But you can make a difference! By choosing to bring a reusable shopping bag, buying items made from recycled materials, and donating used items, we can show the industry where our priorities lie. We vote by the register!

Photo sources: H&M and lydia_shiningbrightly via Flickr

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