“I don’t really know what it means,” my friend said when I told him I was writing an article on sustainability. That was when I realized that most people perceive sustainability as a trend and don’t understand the significance of it. Yes, there are some of us that have more knowledge of sustainability—but we are not the majority.
So, allow me to begin with two definitions of sustainability as per the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary: “the use of natural products and energy in a way that does not harm the environment” and “the ability to continue or be continued for a long time.”
Most of us are familiar with the first definition—this is the one that is pushed on us by capitalist corporations. When there was a cry and demand for these corporations to take accountability for their wasteful methods, what was their response? They gave us products that they claimed were from recycled or organic materials, which were meant to be more sustainable.
But, how true are these claims? Are we being manipulated to believe that we are making a change?
Yes. We are.
Let’s talk about the fast-fashion retailer H&M. Already, fast-fashion and sustainability are two terms that do not go together. However, let’s give H&M the benefit of the doubt. On the surface, everything seems great. H&M has garments that are made from organic material or have a percentage of their garments made from recycled material. Wonderful! They even have a website that is dedicated to informing you of how sustainable the company’s garments are. Everything looks great. So then why was H&M sued this past July?
An article from Renewable Matter covers this lawsuit and dives into the two main reasons: H&M being “deceptive” and “greenwashing.” H&M employed a system called the Higg Index. The Higg Index is a self-assessment tool used by fashion companies to gauge sustainability. The index provides results based on the entire production line. However, the scores showed on H&M’s website were false. H&M was inverting results by misinterpreting values. According to the lawsuit, “If a dress has a water consumption rating of [minus] 20 per cent, H&M reported the opposite, showing 20 per cent less water consumption than average.”
Since being called out, H&M has removed the Higg Index from their website and chalked the false scores down to a “technical error.” The lawsuit also called out H&M’s use of recycled material. Apparently, H&M has several products marketed as sustainable that are composed of 100 per cent polyester. The problem: polyester is not biodegradable and is quite harmful to the environment. So, how sustainable is H&M? Is the huge price markup compared to their other products worth it? No. It’s not.
Now, let’s address straws. You might be familiar with the paper straws from Starbucks that have terrible integrity and lose their structure faster than my will to do well in university. We switched over to these “more sustainable” straws to save the turtles. But, now we’re killing land creatures instead. Yes, you read that right. In the time it takes for paper straws to decompose, the little papers left behind are Bambi and his friends’ lunch—or demise.
The manufacturing of paper straws is also not environmentally friendly; it uses a lot of energy and releases greenhouse gases. Paper straws also contribute to an increase in deforestation.
I implore you to question statements and movements that claim to be sustainable. Otherwise, sustainability will forever be a trend while corporations continue to push narratives upon us and get away with manipulating sustainability.