Fashion brands commit to the purchase of low-carbon fibres
Led by environmental non-profit Canopy, companies including H&M, Inditex, Ben & Jerry's, Stella McCartney, HH Global, and Kering have used COP27 to announce a joint commitment which will see the brands purchase half a million tonnes of low-carbon fibre alternatives for fashion. These include materials such as fibres made from agricultural residue or recycled textiles. Canopy claims that these ‘Next-Generation Solutions’ have a lower carbon footprint and a reduced biodiversity impact when compared with traditional textile and packaging materials[i]. The signatories have also committed to ensuring their respective supply chains are free from material obtained from ancient and endangered Forests, as well as calling upon industry peers to follow suit. According to a press release from Canopy, when compared to traditional forest fibres, Next-Generation Solutions have, on average:
- 95% to 130% less CO2 emissions
- 18% to 70% less fossil energy resource depletion
- 88% to 100% fewer land-use impacts
- at least 5x lower impact on biodiversity/threatened species[ii]
Concerningly, more than a third of the world’s 300 most influential companies have yet to put in place deforestation commitments[iii]. With more than 3.2 billion trees being cut down to produce fibre for packaging and clothing each year, Canopy estimates that by moving to Next Generation Solutions, almost 1Gt of CO2 emissions could be prevented between now and 2030.
Canopy Founder and Executive Director Nicole Rycroft said: "We are thrilled to advance this commitment with forward-looking partners who are willing to challenge the status quo and in doing so provide a breakthrough for these game-changing technologies. This commitment will allow us to take a historic leap closer to the $64 billion of investments in sustainable alternatives needed to ensure forest conservation for our planet's climate and biodiversity stability."[iv]
It is reported that the investment will help build between 10-20 new pulp mills for Next Generation materials and provide farm communities with new markets to replace the common practices of burning straw residue and landfilling materials[v].
H&M hit with another lawsuit as greenwashing claims grow
On the Next-Generation Solutions announcement, Madelene Ericsson, Environmental Sustainability Business Expert at H&M Group, said: "At H&M Group, we are committed to becoming a circular business, in which moving towards more sustainable alternatives for our materials is crucial. Canopy has showed true leadership by bringing the fashion and regenerated cellulosic industries together with the purpose of reducing fashion's dependency on forests,"[vi] Yet hours earlier, media outlets were reporting that the clothing brand was facing another lawsuit relating to claims of ‘greenwashing’. In this instance, a class action lawsuit has been filed over claims that clothing in H&M’s ‘Conscious Choice’ collection is deceptively marketed as sustainable, given that the items are made from materials damaging to the environment[vii]. The filing argues that consumers are led to believe that Conscious Choice products are an environmentally responsible purchase, with H&M defining the collection with this statement on its website:
“The shortcut to more sustainable shopping? Conscious choice...pieces created with a little extra consideration for the planet. Each Conscious choice product contains at least 50% of more sustainable materials – like organic cotton or recycled polyester – but many more contain a lot more than that.”[viii]
As The Retail Gazette notes, “H&M uses green hangtags to identify and market its ‘Conscious Choice’ products, a labelling tactic that suggests garments are either sustainable or more sustainable than other products, despite being manufactured mostly from polyester or recycled plastics, which the plaintiffs claim is a misrepresentation of products that do not negatively affect the environment”[ix].
H&M also charges a premium price for its Conscious Choice products, which The Fashion Law says is significant to the filing, “as it is at the heart of the plaintiffs’ ability to show that they have suffered the necessary injury to have standing to sue.”[x]
Classaction.org, a platform committed to exposing corporate wrongdoing, argues that United States FTC (Federal Trade Commission) Green Guides states that “an environmental marketing claim should not overstate, directly or by implication, an environmental attribute or benefit. Therefore, the filing suggests that “Marketers should not state or imply environmental benefits if the benefits are negligible”[xi].
Source: The Fashion Law
It follows another class action lawsuit from July this year, which argued that “H&M’s labelling, marketing, and advertising is designed to mislead consumers about its products’ environmental attributes, through the use of false and misleading ‘environmental scorecards’ for its products called ‘Sustainability Profiles’”[xii] These profiles were incorporated into the brand’s website, as well as being displayed on the product listing for hundreds of H&M items. The complaint refers to an investigation by Quartz in June this year, which found that H&M’s sustainability profiles contained “falsified information” that “did not comport with underlying data”. In the example given, one of H&Ms sustainability profiles claimed that a dress was made with 20% less water on average when in reality, it was made with 20% more water[xiii].
So-called ‘fast fashion’ brands are no stranger to claims of greenwashing. In August this year, we reported that the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating retail giants Boohoo and Asos, as well as supermarket ASDA over sustainability claims made by the brands. The CMA’s areas for investigation, as stated on the Government website, include whether:
- The statements and language used by the businesses are too broad and vague and may create the impression that clothing collections – such as the ‘Responsible edit’ from ASOS, Boohoo’s current ‘Ready for the Future’ range, and ‘George for Good’ – are more environmentally sustainable than they actually are.
- The criteria used by some of these businesses to decide which products to include in these collections may be lower than customers might reasonably expect from their descriptions and overall presentation – for example, some products may contain as little as 20% recycled fabric.
- Some items have been included in these collections when they do not meet the criteria.
- There is a lack of information provided to customers about products included in any of the companies’ eco ranges, such as missing information about what the fabric is made from.
- Any statements made by the companies about fabric accreditation schemes and standards are potentially misleading, such as a lack of clarity as to whether the accreditation applies to particular products or to the firm’s wider practices.[i]
[i] H&M, Stella McCartney and More Take Canopy Pledge at COP27 – WWD
[ii] H&M, Inditex, Ben & Jerry's, and other leading retailers drive momentum on transition to forest-friendly supply chains (prnewswire.co.uk)
[iii] Forest 500 - 2021 Report
[iv] H&M, Inditex, Ben & Jerry's, and other leading retailers drive momentum on transition to forest-friendly supply chains (prnewswire.co.uk)
[v] Fashion giants agree on forest-positive textile fiber collaboration - edie
[vi] H&M, Inditex, Ben & Jerry's, and other leading retailers drive momentum on transition to forest-friendly supply chains (prnewswire.co.uk)
[vii] H&M Hit with Another ‘Greenwashing’ Class Action Over Allegedly False ‘Conscious Choice’ Sustainability Claims
[ix] H&M hit with another greenwashing lawsuit - Retail Gazette
[x] H&M Facing New Lawsuit Over Marketing of "Conscious" Collection (thefashionlaw.com)
[xi] H&M hit with another greenwashing lawsuit - Retail Gazette
[xii] ‘Greenwashing’ Class Action Alleges H&M Sustainability Profiles Contain ‘Falsified Information’
[xiv] ASOS, Boohoo and Asda investigated over fashion ‘green’ claims - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
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