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Green is the new black: commercial shops’ sustainability efforts just ain’t that sustainable

The drive to be more sustainable has taken the world by figurative storm over the last few years and has shone a light on how ethical our favourite brands and businesses actually are.

Whilst we have been told to reduce, reuse and recycle for most of our lifetimes, it is only now that we as a society are making a concerted effort to do so. This is in part as a result of trailblazers such as Greta Thunberg, who have escalated climate change awareness to be a global issue. Whilst we may think that climate change is solely related to weather patterns, it is alarming quite how much it pervades and can be exacerbated by our everyday habits and routines.

The Scandinavian fashion brand H&M have announced this week that they will be the first retailer to sell garments made from Circulose, a material produced from upcycled fibres from previous clothing by Swedish company Re:newcell. This new effort sees garments containing an equal amount of this material as well as Viscose, which is made from wooden fibres.

It seems, at first glance, an environmentally conscious contribution by a significant fashion retailer. However, it has been accused of ‘greenwashing’ by critics, in which supposedly ethical adjustments are made by brands in order to lessen their environmental impact. This has incurred criticism as it appears only to benefit the company in terms of marketing instead of actually making a difference to the planet.

Customers may believe that they are making an environmentally conscious choice, but actually they are just buying into the idea of sustainability promoted by a fast-fashion brand, rather than tangible change. Unfortunately, whilst these ranges may appear eco-friendly, they are undermined by the sheer amount of stock that the brand produces, and equally this can impair positive steps that smaller, environmentally conscious businesses are aiming to make. 

Shopping sustainably can not only protect your bank account, but it can prevent tonnes of material going to landfill. By making retailers aware of sustainable practices, we can influence their campaigns and in turn raise awareness of the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. Instead of buying into ‘greenwashing’, we can make positive steps to enact change on a micro-level within individual houses and communities.

We can ourselves reduce consumption and in turn help the environment by repurposing or redesigning clothing that is no longer in fashion. 

Similarly, if you do think there is a gap in your wardrobe, seek to fill it with sustainable options such as vintage finds. Charity shops no longer just appeal to your nan, and there are many that are tailored to specific needs, such as occasion wear, or receive items that are limited edition or designer brands. 

Sustainability has now become fashionable, but its very essence seems counter-productive for the fashion industry. For a sector based on the rapid consumption of items at a cyclical rate, this certainly seems the opposite of their purpose. In an ever-changing world, however, it is clear that they will have to adapt in order to maintain their popularity. 

It might just be that other forms of obtaining fashionable items will overtake brands that don’t commit enough to the environment. Perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that if consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious, brands will continue to take the hint.

Image: Alessandra F via Flickr