Swedish retailer and fashion company H&M Group is pledging to stop the use of toxic chemicals - it will not use perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in any items it buys after January 1, 2013, following its early move to eliminate other chemicals from its products.
PFCs are often used to as a water repellant to protect against stains, usually on outer garments, shower curtains, tents and other fabrics that are often encounter moisture. They have been shown to be toxic in laboratory animals and tend to accumulate in bodies over time, causing reproductive and developmental problems.
H&M plans to use an alternative water repellent that does not have adverse environmental and health properties, they say.
The retailer's pledge is far-reaching, given that H&M has 26,000 stores in 44 countries.
The company has already removed subtances including Azo dyes, short-chained chloroparaffins, chromium VI and phenols, such as pentachlorophenol, which is used as a pesticide and disinfectant. It carried out 30,000 chemical tests during 2011 alone, and has been the world's largest user of organic cotton since 2010.
"As a brand, we have for some time worked on restricting and phasing out perfluorinated substances, and a full ban on this has been an important part of our action plan. H&M is also a part of AFIRM, an international working team of leading companies within the textile and footwear industries, educating suppliers to achieve good chemical management. The group’s common aim is to reduce the use and impact of harmful substances in the apparel and footwear supply chain," says H&M.
Back in March, Greenpeace put a spotlight on hazardous chemicals – especially nonylphenol ethoxylates -- being flushed into water systems, especially during the first washing cycle, and H&M was among the high-profile companies targeted by the organization.
Nike, Adidas and PUMA, also targeted by Greenpeace, took steps last year to adopt zero discharge strategies.
Along with H&M, these companies are all part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition - companies that are taking steps to measure the environmental impact of their products and take action to address areas that need improvement.
In July, the companies released their new Higg Index- an assessment tool based on several established methods used by the fashion industry including the Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Index and Nike's Environmental Apparel Design Tool.
For the 2011 Greenpeace "Dirty Laundry" report on chemicals use in the clothing industry: