Sustainability justifies consumerism

Fast fashion has been on the hot seat for the past few years. The industry epitomizes affordable mass consumption at the price of ethical practices and the environment. Consuming more for the price of less leads to the purchase of clothes that will be out of style in months, effectively dooming those mesh crop tops and cargo pants to the dump as soon as social media picks a new trend. Clothes from fast fashion companies are not made to last. They are made to reflect trends that last as long as a Shein shirt, if that.

The sustainability movement reminds consumers to slow down for the sake of the environment. Increased consumption leads to increased pollution and pressure on landfills. The global fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry, producing over 150 billion articles of clothing annually and sending 253 tons of textiles to landfills daily.

At its core, sustainability means reducing needless production by drastically decreasing consumption. It is impossible for fast fashion companies to truly be sustainable, but implementing any measures to work toward corporate sustainability is helpful nonetheless.

In response to the uptick in sustainability activism, companies like H&M began launching sustainability campaigns, allowing customers to bring old clothes to select stores to be recycled and reused. By 2030, the company aims to have 100% of production use recycled fibers or ethically sourced materials.

However, corporate sustainability initiatives such as these convolute the goal of the movement. As a fast fashion company, H&M’s business model prioritizes quantity over quality, and the company likely launched the campaign to appease the worries of their primary market — Gen Z.

Conscientious buyers who opt for sustainable options create huge effects on the consumer sector of the economy. The typical Gen Z consumer prioritizes sustainability — 62% of Gen Z is willing to pay more for a product marketed as sustainable, according to Forbes. Companies that market products as “sustainable” caused 50% of growth in consumer goods sales from 2013 to 2018.

Brands like H&M have been jumping on sustainable advertising, using buzzwords such as “environmentally sustainable” and “eco-friendly.” These claims are used to greenwash products, in hopes of enticing green consumers. It’s hard to trace companies’ actual contribution to reducing carbon emissions and promoting ethical practices, and many of these baseless claims go unchecked.

According to one case study on H&M, their promises to implement sustainable initiatives are far from what is actually happening within the company. They continue to pay low wages, implement poor working conditions, violate human rights and continue seriously harming the environment.

As long as H&M continues to falsely make these claims, consumers feel justified in supporting the company with their money. The lack of transparency in business practices makes it incredibly difficult for consumers to hold companies accountable for their word.

Companies will continue to greenwash their products and make unsubstantiated claims about sustainable practices and goals unless there are mechanisms in place to enforce transparency. Luckily, a solution may come in the surprising form of blockchain technology.

Using blockchain to track environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) data creates an unalterable record of actual business practices. Because these records are not created by humans, blockchain reports produce fewer errors and a higher accuracy of company transactions.

If companies such as H&M agree to contracts allowing blockchain technology to track all ESG data and transactions, these entities would be held to much higher standards, resulting in actual contributions to the environment, not just unsubstantiated claims.

Currently, fast fashion companies are advertising sustainability campaigns as ways to appease their customers, while continuing to harm the environment and exploit labor in developing countries. While it is impossible for corporations to be sustainable while simultaneously prioritizing profit-based mass production, companies need to be held accountable in any way possible, whether by using blockchain technology or other effective mechanisms.

Additionally, it is up to the consumer to practice sustainability by not buying in excess to keep up with rapidly changing trends. Products do not define individual worth, but fast fashion companies will go to any length necessary to convince consumers of that regardless. Companies only care about profit. It is up to consumers to make them care about the irreversible damage they are inflicting on the Earth by promoting ways to keep them accountable.