Social and Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry.
Critical Assessment of the Latest Sustainability Practices by H & M...
Recommendations for Integrating the Company’s Sustainability Measures Into Sustainable Development Goals and Company’s Existing Sustainable Measures.
The clothing or garment industrial sector is a type of industry dealing in the manufacturing, trading of clothing and garments. This industry is based on the trickle-down system which starts from textiles manufacturing with different fibres like cotton, wool, fur, and synthetic fibres circulating from the fashion industry to retailers and spans from new manufacturing to second-hand clothing and recycling (Bick et al, 2018). The clothing technologies which are used are gin, sewing machine, loom which was the flag-bearer of industrialization. This fashion and garment industry is a major sector for many economies.
Fashion and clothing is globally a $ 2.5 trillion industry, as in the United States only, the retail business was reported of nearly $380 billion in 2017 (Bayer, 2019). It employs more than 1.8 million people in the US which spans from fibre industry to retail which is related to fashion and clothing. According to UNEP, the fashion industry is one of the largest and oldest industries in the world with 2nd highest global economic activity (Bayer, 2019).
The fashion and apparel sector is one of the largest and oldest sectors in the world. Its supply chain is complex and diverse, implying more than 4 tiers. The fashion industry after the globalization and age of fast communication has turned itself towards fast fashion with a short product life cycle, making it fast-moving consumer goods, yet having a better quality to sustain life itself (Bick et al, 2018). This fashion system introduces new apparel in short intervals, the discussion is important here as apparel making has its considerable environmental impacts.
Bayer (2019) explains the primary environmental issues related to the fashion industry which are as follows-
Consumption of the primary resource- Fossil fuels and water are consumed high in producing raw material, manufacturing, and transporting.
GHG emissions- A pair of jeans manufacturing is equal to 80 miles of car driving. UK clothing alone emits 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year.
Land use- It is very significant in the natural fiber productive and in monoculture for specific demands, and uses of herbicide and pesticides as not much regulated as for grains.
Production processes- Some processes in manufacturing use hazardous chemical components that are toxic for labor, soil, water, and the environment.
The problem of landfill- a non-biodegradable yarn can be still in a landfill for up to 200 years, most of the abandoned textiles end up in landfills.
Henns and Mauritz is an international clothing retail brand from Sweden with operations in 74 countries with 5000+ stores under different brands with total employees counting 126,000. It is the world's second-biggest clothing and apparel retailer
Responsible purchasing practices- Responsible purchasing refers to the decision making keeping in mind the environmental, social, and ethical labour issues when making a purchase. Responsible purchasing is a fundamental aspect of providing a safe work environment to workers and care for responsible pay to them (Hmgroup, n.d.). If the buyers are not responsible purchasers, it will disrupt the money circulation and will thus disrupt the business flow. In 2019, 96% of the suppliers of the H & M group rated it a responsible buyer, it is also a founding member of ACT in 2014, which binds its signatories for responsible buying. The company has in 2011 installed a Supplier relationship management system that guides the company on supplier relationships. Many challenges still remain to be addressed to confirm that the company’s purchasing does not contribute to human rights violations like streamlining all the suppliers to bind to the responsible buying practices.
Foundation for the biodiversity project- H & M recently laid the foundation of its biodiversity project in order to obtain a positive impact on the ecosystem which means avoiding practices to mitigate harm and on the other hand efforts leave the natural environment in a better state through restoration and safeguarding projects, it has two main objectives-
Sellpy Launch in Germany- (Hmgroup (n.d.) informs that Sellpy is a second-hand clothing brand from Sweden since 2014, it’s going to be launched in Germany. It’s a great step for lowering the carbon footprint and GHG emissions as it is clear now that clothing and textile have a considerable carbon footprint. It will promote the trend of second-hand clothing and a sustainable form of consumption for the clothing industry. H & M group has a primary task of making the linear form of the textile economy to a circular form and it’s a step in the right direction. H & M has also tested the models in the areas of rental clothing, repairing, and re-commercialization as a part of the R & D in the recycling technologies.
H & M group announced its support to the E. MacArthur Foundation for a circular economy together. It includes other stakeholders as companies, academics, individuals, policymakers, and philanthropists to accelerate the transition from linear to circular as the company has pledged it to be adapted as a new normal (Hmgroup, n.d.). H & M is one the signatories of the foundations’ initiative in which a decision was taken to promote a circular economy for clothing as a sustainable solution against the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the circular economy concept is a small chunk of the overall fast fashion business which will make the circular economy efforts neutral if its share is not increased in the total volume.
Responsible use of the natural resources- H & M is committed to using the cotton for fabrics from sustainable resources which will lessen the burden on climate and water. It has also integrated with the NGO WWF for sustainable water uses in its resources (About.hm, 2018). But the expanding market reach of h & M cannot be ignored that will lead to consumption of more energy in total. However, there is no evidence that it will lessen its consumption of raw materials and lower down its expansion (Mukherjee, 2015).
Efficient use of electricity- The Company aims to reduce the use of electricity through fossil fuels and started to promote renewable energy sources to reduce the greenhouse footprint (About.hm, 2018). It should also include in its programs the suppliers of all categories, transporters and customer to involve in its drive for green business.
Strengthening communities- H & M invests in direct projects or supports the existing local community and local economic development projects. It has set up the H & M conscious foundation for sustained and long term investments in women and child development, community development, clean water, education etc. (About.hm, 2018). H & M needs start such projects all over its presence in around 70 countries and its carbon footprint is not limited to the area where its headquarters are situated (Hmgroup, n.d.). However, the company needs strictly to bind its suppliers to follow the ethics and responsible purchase moves, for example, women workers of this industry in Bangladesh gets $ 96 a month, whereas the government wage board has suggested a direct 3.5 times increase in such wages (Mukherjee, 2015).
The company shall roll out its plan and its measures in the form of a project for gender equality in all the forms and avenues to integrate itself into the Goal 5 of the UN SDGs and converts its community development plan into all-encompassing local area development plan which can cover a multiple SDG goals such as no poverty, zero hunger, decent work and economic growth, equality which will cover goal 1-5 and 8 (UN.org, n.d.).
In addition to this, the company shall strive to partner with employees in its development and sustainability goals, company shall include its supply chains to sign the ACT convention on responsible purchasing that will promote sustainable working conditions across all the countries in which country operates and from which company procures, it will promote goal 7 and 8.
Company shall chalk out a separate chemical plan to learn and carve out chemicals from the processes of the company in which it should promote and strive to use green and non-chemical pesticides and herbicides and train the employees of the suppliers to use chemicals in an efficient manner will help active goal 16 and 17 (UN.org, n.d.).
Developing sustainability work policies to force the existing plans like powering down equipment at day end and energy saving equipment on all the electronics are some of the examples of such policy.
The fundamental understanding of the fashion and clothing industry’s carbon footprint has been understood. Though governments and the companies involved are striving towards sustainability practices of production to distribution, still the problem lies in the strong will to overcome the unsustainable practices in a time bound manner and the expansion of the industry is much wider as compared to the sustainability practices being adopted for the part of production. Company needs not only to do sustainable practices to abide by the law but honest strive towards sustainability in the clothing sector is company’s responsibility as it is one of the prime flag bearer of the industry. Now there is a need to identify the industrial carbon footprint as it will drastically reduce the GHG emissions if even one industry can adopt sustainability measures without compromising with the profits.
About.hm.com (2018) Sustainability report. Retrieved from https://about.hm.com/content/dam/hmgroup/groupsite/documents/masterlanguage/CSR/reports/2018_Sustainability_report/HM_Group_SustainabilityReport_2018_%20FullReport.pdf
Bayer, D. (2019) The Economic impact of the fashion industry. Retrieved from https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/democrats/reports?ID=449944BB-EF17-42CC-B9EF-15E8AC01FCB8
Bick, R., Hasley, E. & Ekenga, C. (2018) The global environmental injustice of fast fashion. Environmental Health 17 (92).
Hmgroup.com (n.d.) Sustainability. Retrieved from https://hmgroup.com/sustainability.html
Hmgroup.com (n.d.) H&m group supports the ellen macarthur foundation to accelerate circular economy to build back better. Retriveed from https://hmgroup.com/media/news/general-news-2020/hmgroup-ellenmacarthurfoundation-build-back-better.html
Kutsenkova, Z. (2017) The sustainable future of the modern fashion industry. Retrieved from https://scholar.dominican.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=honors-theses
Mukherjee, S. (2015) environmental and social impact of fashion: towards an eco-friendly, ethical fashion. International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies (IJIMS)2 (3). pp 22-35.
Un.org (n.d.) envision2030: 17 goals to transform the world for persons with disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030.html
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