A proposed class action alleges fashion retailer H&M has misled consumers about the sustainability of hundreds of products by publishing online “environmental scorecards” that contained falsified information.
The 20-page complaint cites a June 2022 Quartz investigation that revealed that H&M’s “sustainability profiles” contained falsified information that “did not comport with underlying data.” For example, the lawsuit says, one sustainability profile claimed that a dress was made with 20 percent less water on average, when in reality it was made with 20 percent more water.
Further, the case charges that H&M also misrepresents that its purportedly sustainable products are a “conscious choice,” a “shortcut to sustainable choices,” and made from “sustainable materials,” and that the retailer will prevent its textiles from “going to landfill” through its recycling program.
The lawsuit alleges that H&M’s apparent “greenwashing” of its products has come at the expense of consumers who pay a premium price under the belief that the clothes they are buying are truly sustainable and environmentally friendly. According to the complaint, H&M, contrary to its position as a company that prioritizes sustainability, in fact drives the significant environmental harms traced back to “fast fashion.”
“The goal of H&M’s advertising scheme is to market and sell products that capitalize on the growing segment of consumers who care about the environment, but H&M does so in a misleading and deceptive way,” the suit alleges.
According to Quartz, “[m]ore than half” of the scorecards on H&M’s website claimed that a piece of clothing was better for the environment when, in fact, it was “no more sustainable than comparable garments made by the company and its competitors.”
“In the most egregious cases,” Quartz wrote, “H&M showed data that were the exact opposite of reality.”
The filing relays that as customer preference has shifted toward making buying choices that do not harm the environment, H&M “has lost a sizeable segment of consumers who are concerned about the impact of fast fashion over the last decade.” To counter this, H&M has positioned its clothing in order to represent the items as environmentally friendly, the suit alleges.
In “greenwashing” the sustainability profiles for its products, H&M, the lawsuit alleges, “conveniently, and egregiously,” presented negative indicators as positive results “in every instance.”
In the wake of the Quartz investigation, H&M removed the sustainability scorecards for its products, the case states.
“While H&M represented that it was sharing information about the environmental impact of its Products, it miscoded items to provide an environmentally rosy picture of the Products that was ‘totally wrong,’” the complaint says.
For instance, products in H&M’s “Conscious Collection” were touted by the retailer as containing “at least 50% sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester,” the filing relays. Despite this, however, H&M also includes products that are comprised of indisputably unsustainable materials, such as polyester, which “does not biodegrade, sheds toxic microfibers, and is not recyclable,” the lawsuit states.
Further, the lawsuit alleges that H&M’s placement of in-store bins where consumers are told they can recycle old clothes is “misleading,” as recycling solutions “either do not exist or are not commercially available at scale for the vast majority” of the H&M products at issue.
The lawsuit looks to cover all persons who bought any H&M product containing a sustainability profile or sustainability misrepresentation in New York.
The complaint states that the aforementioned “class” may be modified or narrowed as appropriate should additional information be obtained through further investigation and discovery.
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