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Green, greener, H&M?

  -   15. March 2017
Source: annca/

It seems like everyone is talking about sustainability- and H&M wants to join the conversation.

Hennes & Mauritz AB, or short: H&M, is one of the world’s leading fast- fashion companies. Its remarkable success story started in 1947 with one single store in Sweden. Now H&M owns 3924 shops on 6 continents, established 6 several, clearly defined brands and is participating in 61 markets. But not only H&M’s size and success has developed over time but also the consumer behaviour of its clients. Nowadays offering the latest fashion for the cheapest price possible is not enough anymore. Sustainability is the new trend- and H&M loves new trends. Thinking about the immense use of cotton or headlines about dangerous working conditions in their factories it is nearly unpossible to associate the fashion retailer with social and environmental responsibility. However H&M found an innovative way into sustainability combining the economic interest of its consumers with its own: A garment- recycling system. “As much as 95% of clothes thrown away could have been re-worn or recycled” states H&M on their website. Since they launched their garment collecting initiative in 2013 they have already gathered more than 32,000 tonnes of clothing and have re-used the garments in circa 20% of their new collection.

So how does it work?

The fast-fashion industry is reliable on a short-life cycle product due to fast moving trends and seasons. That does not only imply that retailers need to create demands more often but also that consumption and regular purchase of clothes is much higher than in other industries. H&M therefore introduced a new process whereby costumers can hand in their old garments, no matter which brand or condition, in local H&M stores and in return receive coupons for a new purchase.

The system functions as followed. H&M’s partner I:CO sorts the garments into 3 categories:

– Clothing that can be worn again and will be sold as second hand clothes

– Textiles that will be turned into other products

– Everything else that will be turned into textile fibres in order to be used for insulation.

With this innovative process H&M is creating a win-win situation for both parties. For the fashion retailer the recycling process builds on the company’s existing knowledge in textile production and therefore is competence enhancing and a component innovation, that just adds value to the product system without changing the whole process. Moreover, the company reduces, with its new process, improvement innovation cost of production and builds advantage into its product. Simultaneously the costumer gains more space in his or her overcrowded wardrobe and in addition receives a coupon for its next purchase (to re-fill the newly acquired space in the closet).

The fast-fashion giant on the sustainability track?

To be fair, the new, innovative garment collecting initiative is rather an incremental than a radical innovation. The idea of recycling, or converting waste materials into new objects, has already been a common practice for most of human history. Paper recycling, for example, was first recorded in Japan in 1031. Nowadays, systems like bottle deposits, or in other words container- deposit legislation, are very popular and even legally bound in many European countries. With ongoing and increasing sustainbility trends worldwide the recycling industry consequently becomes more respected as well.

Consumer adoption to H&M’s new eco-innovation, which is a product that avoids or reduces environmental harms, is therefore easy, as its funcionality and its interface have already been existing on the market- however H&M is the first fast fashion retailer that integrated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the model of recycling into its value chain. CSR, the balance between economic, social and environmental components, is no longer a competitive advantage for companies but rather developed to be a “must have” for businesses of all kind according to today’s consumer expectations. Thinking of this specific change in consumer behaviour, H&M really hit the mark with its garment collecting system, introducing an innovation in recycling processes in the fast-fashion industry at exactly the right time.

A future changing innovation or nothing but Greenwashing the brand?

While critics argue that the newly introduced process is a clear case of Greenwashing, which means portraying a false image of an organisation in order to look eco-friendly, H&M holds on to its belief in creating a “greener future”. Surely, H&M is not a pioneer in sustainable garment production or a trailblazer of Corporate Social Responsibility. Anyway, the fashion retailer set new standards by entering the market of recycling and should be seen as a role model for other fast-fashion retailer. Still, there is a long way to go- so we should also start becoming active and follow new sustainability trends exactly like we do with the latest fashion!

Who wrote it?

Theresa Möhn

Theresa Möhn studies at the European Management School in Mainz.


Van Nguyen
22-03-2017 18:30

Corporate Social Responsibility is a must for every company. But I cannot take companies seriously anymore, mostly it is greenwashing, just claiming to be "green' but actually operates in an opposite manner. Big brands like H&M can tell and try a lot but fact is, H&M will always be involved in controversial issues regarding their working conditions abroad. Indeed they are heading to the right direction but only time is going to show us how much their brand reputation will change.

Julia Ursu
22-03-2017 15:57

Nice article! It´s interesting to know that H&M was the first fashion retailer who integrated Corporate Social Responsibility. I think that it is a good timing to introduce such a business model since sustainability is a real hype. Nevertheless, I´m disappointed that such a huge fashion retailer like H&M has problems with Greenwashing. That’s a bit paradox to their latest introduced process. I hope that they change something and that they are as sustainable as they pretend to be. I like the way you point the problem out that H&M has even If they are innovative with their idea.

Sandra Bleher
22-03-2017 12:08

Your article really impressed me! I haven't been a fan of H&M lately because of the bad reputation about child labor and the horrible working conditions. So I would have never expected them to join the sustainability movement. And even though this might be just another Greenwashing campaign, it's a step in the right direction. And I think this will totally work out, because who doesn't want to change his old clothes for new ones? So I really hope that they will take further steps regarding sustainability in the future and maybe even motivate other fashion retailers to do so as well. This way soon we might be able to buy clothes without having a bad conscience.

Thorben Theis
22-03-2017 12:00

As a H&M shopper with a full wardrobe your article really appeals to me. While the idea behind the concept is good I thing H&M benefits the most of this system. They get material for free. In my opinion H&M should introduce a way in which they pay an amount of money for each garment they collect. As you said recycling is no new trend and there are also charities that collect clothes. Nevertheless I thing it is really good that the company tries to be more sustainable. But for this innovation I only see H&M that profits.

Toni Dang
21-03-2017 16:12

This article gives me a new view of H&M. I really like this process innovation of H&M. Sustainability is a very important factor nowadays and I also think that other companies should follow this example. With H&M new concept consumer and firm profit from each other.

Franziska Blum
21-03-2017 16:10

I really like the concept of H&M to make something new out of old clothes. I just wonder where exactly this happens.. if the old clothes have to be shipped to production facilities far away, and later back, I don't know if this has such great positive impact on environment in the end. In general, H&M could inform more about it. I have seen it, I already used it once with two pieces, but I still don't know all about it. What clothes can I put in? Only H&M or any clothes? This is not clearly shown. So to raise attention, they should maybe do something to inform people more. However, I usually give my old clothes to some organizations or put it into the cycling bank anyway, instead of throwing it away. If this or the process of H&M is the better solution, is not clear for me. I definitely will inform myself more about it!

Isabelle Hachenberg
21-03-2017 16:08

Basically every day we are facing the topic of sustainability. Garbage separation, the collection of plastic bottles and now the reuse and reproduction of garments in the fast fashion industry. As you said this is not a new innovation as other companies started doing this years ago. When I saw this for the first time in a local store, I was really critical. From experience and news, I know that mostly you do not know what really happens with your donated clothes. Is there a guarantee that H&M is doing what they promise? After having a controversial image of H&M I hope, that they are now on the right way of becoming a role model in this industry and other fashion retailers are following their path of becoming more sustainable.

Letizia Credico
20-03-2017 19:23

For me personally, H&M has always been considered as highly controversial. In recent years, I have come to know many times that H&M had to face accusations of child labor and unsafe working conditions. However, it turns out that this initiative seems to cater for a completely renewed brand reputation. I really like the idea that consumers have the chance to return their clothes whenever their garments are worn-out. H&M now puts a lot of emphasis on sustainability which will definitely be very successful with customers. Nevertheless, it remains to be hoped that the company continues with their sustainable changes in the future.

Samantha Beidinger
20-03-2017 15:55

As a passionate H&M-customer I really enjoy to hear that H&M found a way to collect garments to reuse and reproduce. In my opinion, it was time that also the big fashion retailer are getting on board of the sustainability train as it becomes more and more an issue of our lives – industrially and personally. By integrating this system into their value creation process they are showing environmental awareness, which can be an indicator for competitive advantage. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go and the competition does not sleep. H&M has the opportunity to pioneer an innovative and sustainable policy for fashion retailer – if they provide transparency in their sustainability tracing system.

Marie Schubert
18-03-2017 16:18

I really like this process innovation of H&M. They implemented a very interesting recycling technique directly into their value creation process. To my point of view this change in their value creation process really makes a difference. It indicates clearly that H&M is including the principles of sustainability into their core business. By doing that, the image of greenwashing is avoided as the company is not just saying to be sustainable and “green”, but also doing something for it. This can also improve firm reputation, attractiveness and finally profit. As H&M as a huge and global acting company does generally not have such a sustainable business concept (including for example production in cheap labour countries), it is even more important to make changes. Especially in times where consumers are putting more value on firms acting sustainable. H&M should definitely be seen as role model in this industry and other companies like Zara or Mango should follow the example. In my opinion this innovation does only have advantages – for both the consumer and the company. Nevertheless I agree with you, that there is still optimization potential for H&M in terms of being sustainable in their whole value creation process. It should be evaluated if H&M is only again just following a trend or if they intrinsically want to make a sustainable change.

Beate Gaitzsch
17-03-2017 15:34

It is very interesting to see such a big clothing brand take action in sustainability. I think it is a good first step and surely creates a better image. However, there needs to be some kind of reassurance for me, that the clothes are really recycled that way and good clothing is sold again, labelled correctly as 'second-hand'. If this is not the case, it could also create mistrust in the brand, which would be bad for the company. Additionally, as I am usually not buying at H&M, I would like to know if it is only for H&M related brands or also for completely other brands? On the other hand it is in my opinion a way to reduce the waste of clothes, which should be done by more companies. Very interesting story!

Katharina Blanckart
16-03-2017 16:56

I really enjoyed reading your article as I have seen the signs advertising this system in the stores so often and every single time I asked myself how it worked. It is good to know that H&M actually has a process of how to deal with worn clothes as many self labeled "charity" organisations in fact sell the donated clothing in some other countries and gain Money from it. An interesting factor is that there are different ways of how to make use of second hand clothing other than selling it again. The one where the reuse the fibre instantly reminded me of bottle recycling which has proven to be a great concept. Especially the connection to CSR gives a more profound understanding of the bigger picture of sustainability and I wouldn't have guessed that a company like H&M included this in their value chain concept. Nice Job!



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