A new report by Changing Markets Foundation states that 59% of sustainability claims made by major fashion companies such as H&M, Asos, and even Patagonia are unsubstantiated or misleading. What's more, the brands show no clear commitment to reducing their reliance on fossil fuel-based synthetic fibres.
The report rates 46 of the world's supposedly most transparent brands, including Zara, Primark, H&M and Burberry, on the amount of synthetic materials in their collections and their commitments to move away from them. On average, more than two-thirds of the textile fibres in clothing are synthetic and thus come from fossil sources. Furthermore, it appears that none of the fashion brands surveyed have committed to completely eliminating synthetic fibres from their production chain.
"While other companies and sectors are decarbonising and moving towards a circular economy, it is clear that the fashion industry, given its dependence on synthetic fibres, is moving in completely the wrong direction," the report says.
The sustainability claims of the big brands were also scrutinised. No less than 59% of the green claims were in one way or another contrary to the guidelines of the British competition authority. These state that claims must be unambiguous, truthful and accurate, and consider the full lifecycle of a product.
For example, a majority of brands are trying to meet their sustainability targets by replacing new polyester with fibres based on recycled bottles. This is anything but a sustainable solution, according to the report, because the clothes end up in the rubbish afterwards anyway. Fashion brands would do better to invest in truly sustainable solutions, where clothing can be recycled back into clothing.
The report points out H&M, Asos and M&S as the biggest 'greenwashers'. For instance, H&M's Conscious collection is said to be more sustainable because it contains at least 50% "sustainable materials". In reality, however, this collection contains more synthetic fibres than the rest of the range and can therefore hardly be considered sustainable. Some items in the Conscious collection are even made of 100% polyester, according to the report.