The retail industry is a lucrative business across the world, generally constituting a significant proportion of income generated. In fact, the Office of National Statistics in the UK reported a staggering weekly spend at an estimated £8.5 billion in December 2012! While ‘Retail’ constitutes anything from food, to ‘hard goods’ such as furniture and electronics, to ‘soft goods’ such as clothing, I shall be focusing on the latter for this post.
Let’s face it, this generation has become quite vain when it comes to personal appearance. Most people I know will splurge a significant amount of their hard earned money on new clothes and outfits, despite the fact that their wardrobes would already be overloaded. I always wonder whether such people are aware of the environmental implications of their excessive clothes shopping (not to mention ethical issues of fair trade…but that is a topic for a future discussion).
Did you know that it takes approximately 1,800 gallons (8,200 Litres) of water to grow enough cotton required to manufacture one pair of plain blue jeans? That is equivalent to the amount of water required to fill a standard bathtub 41 times over! In terms of cotton t-shirts, a general plain garment requires around 400 gallons (1800 Litres) to be manufactured from scratch. Such figures are astounding, when you consider how many items of clothing are sold on a daily basis. Furthermore, we are not considering issues of agricultural impacts of cotton plantations on ecosystems of countries that produce the raw materials.
It is with great pleasure that I announce that some big names in the retail industry are started to mitigate the impact of their products on the environment. H&M, the international Swedish owned retail chain is making leaps and bounds in turning its clothes into sustainable options for consumers.
Firstly, they launched their ‘Conscious Collection’ in 2011, which uses environmentally friendly materials such as organic cotton and linen, recycled polyesters and wools, and recycled plastics for accessories. In fact, the garments need to be 95% or more sustainable to be listed as ‘green’ or environmentally friendly. This line was so popular with consumers, they it has since become a staple of H&M’s collection – it is due to be launched again across H&M stores this Thursday the 21st of March:
In December of 2012, H&M launched a three-year partnership initiative with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to implement water conservation measures that would allow the it to become more water efficient.
So where does WWF come in? Quoting H&M’s website:
“H&M designers and buyers will receive additional training in the water impacts of raw material production as well as wet processes for different styles, to promote more sustainable choices. WWF and H&M will work in collaboration with public policy makers, NGO´s, water institutions and other companies to support better management of particular river basins in China and Bangladesh”.
This collaboration does not simply stop at helping H&M use less water in the manufacturing process, but it will also aid the company in the UK by reducing water use in the operation of its company-owned facilities. In addition, the company is also trying to target its customers by educating them on how they too can conserve water when cleaning their garments:
In typical retail industry style, what is such a venture worth without proper marketing? H&M had this covered when the dressed Helen Hunt for the 2013 Academy awards in a sustainable dress. The message they sent is simple: if a Hollywood star can wear ‘green’ clothing on the red carpet at the Oscars, than so can you!
H&M isn’t the only one retail corporation going green! Levi’s has also launched a ‘waterless’ line of jeans in 2011, which use 28% less water in the manufacturing process and produce an end product which costs the same! Such initiatives are very much welcomed, as they will hopefully influence other retail giants to follow in their footsteps.
At the end of the day, I personally believe that such changes in how companies operate should be accompanied by a slight change in public attitude towards consumerism. People should start understanding the impact their shopping habits have on the environment, and if they really cannot do without shopping they should consider alternatives such as thrift shops!