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H&M Details Its Improvements on Sustainability Last Year

An H&M store. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images
An H&M store. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

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Last week, H&M announced that it will be opening its 4,000th store this month, an impressive or sickening milestone depending on your viewpoint. On Thursday, the Swedish fast fashion retailer released its annual sustainability report, which spells out what exactly it's doing to offset the environmental degradation wrought by its massive operation. Because hiring MIA to make a music video celebrating World Recycle Week makes for fun content, but doesn't really do much in the way of reducing water use or safety risks to garment workers.

By some counts, H&M really is improving on the sustainability front. In 2015, it manufactured 1.3 million items made from "closed loop" (recycled) materials, which is a 300% increase from 2014. And 31.4% of all the cotton H&M used was either certified organic, recycled, or adhered to the Better Cotton Initiative's standards for environmentally responsible production — that's up from 21.2% last year and 7.6% four years ago. The electricity H&M uses is now 78% renewable, versus 27% last year.

The volume of used garments that H&M has collected in-store through its clothing recycling program also rose to 12,341 tons in 2015 from 7,684 tons last year and 3,047 the year before that. That's interesting mainly because it means the brand is succeeding to some degree in reeducating shoppers about the disposal of their clothing, much in the same way that it, in conjunction with other fast fashion retailers, trained those same customers to view their clothing as disposable in the first place.

That's good. Would it be better for the environment to educate shoppers out of that mentality altogether? Sure. But failing that, presenting a 130-page report on how to assess and improve on issues of sustainability is useful at least to H&M's likeminded peers.