Does sustainability in the metaverse translate to IRL? Well, it’s complicated

H&M’s latest sustainability push is a circular gaming experience in the metaverse, which begs the question if the impact extends to its physical range of products.
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· 4 min read

What happens in the metaverse stays in the metaverse—at least when it comes to sustainability. That seems to be the expert take on H&M’s latest circular gaming experience, Loooptopia, that dropped on Roblox earlier this month.

In a nutshell, the game allows users to mix up different fabrics and recycle garments to create unique pieces of clothing…online. H&M is saying it’s their latest push toward being more sustainable, but consumers might call it greenwashing, as the efforts do not extend to their physical range of products.

“I have a mixed view about it,” Marie Driscoll, managing director of luxury and retail at Coresight Research, told Retail Brew. “I’d rather see them address sustainability in the universe, not in the metaverse, but I do think that this is a place where they will engage their next set of consumers…Sustainability may be the hook that will attract the next set of consumers.”

Morning Consult’s brands and marketing reporter, Ellyn Briggs, while agreeing that sustainability is important to consumers—especially younger generations—said that they still want to see the impact of sustainability IRL.

“So manufacturing, product materials—those sorts of tangible tactile aspects of their business—are what consumers believe are the most important parts of sustainability that they should be addressing,” she told us. “When you couple that with the lack of widespread adoption of the metaverse…it’s hard for me to see this moving the needle substantially in any way for H&M.”

Long time coming

This isn’t H&M’s first sustainability foray in the metaverse. The brand has been actively promoting virtual garments and gaming for the past six years. In 2021, H&M tapped actor Maisie Williams as a sustainability ambassador and even had a digital avatar to go along with it. It has also previously dabbled in digital fashion collections.

But this time, the brand is certain that circularity is an important element of its virtual world and also extends to the IRL realm. A core argument by the company is that in its design stage, it has  “moved away from designing a product using traditional sketches and physical samples toward using virtual design production,” Max Heirbaut, global head of metaverse brand experience at H&M, told Glossy.

Michael Felice, associate partner in the communications, media, and technology practice of Kearney, said that the argument is valid in some sense, since designing products virtually might be instrumental in doing away with waste that happens while testing fabrics and colors or doing sample runs of a product. “If I’m able to transfer some of that, and then process into a digital environment and learn from the data, rather than learning from the physical, that in itself could be a sustainability effort,” he said.

Side effects

Another long-term impact, per Felice, when it comes to sustainability in the metaverse is how it could help reduce carbon footprint. While it may not influence sustainability in the sense that people start buying less, brands can more efficiently manage their supply chain by understanding consumer preferences in the metaverse.

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“If I shift into a metaverse environment…I can look for consumer data preferences like, ‘What did you recycle that scarf for? What are you very interested in?’ And then I can start linking consumer preferences, creating taxonomies on segmentations, looking at regional divides and differences,” he explained. “Then I can really sense and pivot in my supply chain.”

It can also help the brand lower costs, but these are all fringe benefits that retailers may not be aiming for. Driscoll said the biggest and most lasting impact is creating a conscious consumer.

“As you become more informed about your carbon footprint and how your behavior is impacting the planet, it should change your behavior and…it’s going to create a more discerning shopper,” she said, adding that ultimately that will lead to consumers “trading up” and buying fewer, but higher-quality items that are more sustainable.

Eventually, she theorized, that could inspire brands to change their product mix over time.

While it remains to be seen if that comes to fruition, companies will continue to experiment with sustainability in the metaverse—regardless of whether it results in anything substantial IRL—as long as consumers care about it, Felice said. The former omnichannel is dead, he said. “[Now] it’s almost just a perpetual channel of interaction…The more I can be part of…her interactions on her mobile, the more I can be present with content, the more I am [in] front of her thought process, the better chance I have in winning her interaction, her engagement, and, ultimately, winning her transaction when she decides to purchase.”—JS

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.