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Sustainability Report 2017: How H&M aims to lead the way to a sustainable fashion future

By Vivian Hendriksz


Fashion |REPORT

The H&M Group aims to be a catalyst for sustainable change across the fashion industry, which is why the Swedish fashion company has set itself some of number of sustainability targets. "We have one of the most advanced and ambitious sustainability goals in the industry today," confirmed Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M to FashionUnited at the Group's head office in Stockholm, Sweden.

H&M has set three main goals: to become 100 percent circular and lead the change to a sustainable fashion industry, while being a fair and equal company. This means shifting its current business model from a linear one to circular one, ensuring all its workers throughout its supply chain are treated and paid fairly, while causing as little harm to the planet and helping the industry become more sustainable overall - all very ambitious goals. So how does the Swedish fashion company aim to achieve all this? H&M has broken down its sustainability efforts, commitments and strategies, as well as some of the progress it has made and shared them with the industry and public in its 2017 Sustainability report.

"A company of our size and scale has a responsibility as well as a great opportunity to lead the change towards a more sustainable fashion and design industry"

Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M

While is it clear that is fashion industry needs to rethink the future of fashion, H&M first began by looking at the challenges faced by the industry at the moment, such as the growing population and its dependence on finite resources. At the same time, clothing will remain a everyday neccessity and the H&M group does not foresee the growing population to stop buying clothes. "We know that people are always going to buy fashion, so the big challenge for us, one we are looking to crack is how to provide all these people with fashion in a way that is within the boundaries of the planet's needs," noted Gedda. This is why the H&M Group is pushing the shift towards a circular model and maximising the potential of its materials while minimising its waste.

H&M outlines its goals for a circular fashion industry in its 2017 Sustainability Report

H&M is aware that there is no single solution to becoming circular, which is why they are developing different strategies, such as investing in material recycling technology, collecting old garments to be recycled and made new collections from while upping its usage of sustainable materials. H&M aims to only use 100 percent recycled or other sustainably sourced materials in its collections by 2030. In 2017, 35 percent of the materials used to make H&M's products were recycled or sourced sustainably. "Innovation is key to solve many of the challenges the fashion industry is facing. Especially when it comes to accelerating the shift from a linear to a circular model," said Cecilia Brännsten, Acting Environmental Sustainability Manager at H&M group.

"But it will not be one technology, one innovation, that will do the trick; instead it will be several ideas, scientists and companies putting the puzzle together, pushing the development forward. That is why we invest in and partner with innovation companies such as re:newcell and Treetotextile." H&M collected 17,771 tonnes of textiles through its garment collection initiative in 2017 for reuse and recycling and aims to collect 25,000 tonnes annually by 2020. That is equal enough fibres to create 89 million T-shirts. H&M has collected 61,000 tonnes of textiles since 2013, which has been reused or recycled. H&M also aims to use 100 percent sustainably sourced cotton in its collections by 2020, which includes certified organic cotton, Better Cotton (BCI) and recycled cotton. At the moment 59 percent of the cotton H&M uses is sustainably sourced. The group also used recycled polyester equal to 100 million PET bottles in its collections in 2017.

"There is an abundance of resources that we classify as waste"

Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M

"Every year we take new steps towards our bold goal to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. This significantly reduces the use of natural resources and the negative impact our business has on the climate," stressed Mattias Bodin, Sustainability Business Expert, Materials & Innovation at H&M group. "It’s important to use already existing sustainable materials but also test completely new fabrics. When it comes to recycled materials, they are truly a win-win since they stop waste material going to landfill and at the same time reduce the use of virgin raw material." The Swedish fashion company also aims to achieve a climate positive value chain by 2040, another ambitious goal. For now, H&M has managed to reduced emissions from its own operations by 21 percent last year by cutting down and using better energy sources. 96 percent of the H&M Group's electricity came from renewable sources in 2017.

In order to ensure it is a 100 percent fair and equal company, the H&M group is also working to implement better wages for its workers. 227 supplier factories, with over 375,000 workers, have implemented an improved wage management system, which has created a dialogue between management and workers on wage-related issues and ensure wages take skills, experience and responsibility into consideration. As part of H&M's 2018 goal, 100 percent of the garment factories H&M works with in Bangladesh have conducted democratic elections of worker representatives. In total, 2,882 people were elected to represent the workers, 40 percent of them were female.

However, the H&M Group stressed that in order to support the ongoing development of industry-wide collective bargaining agreements and purchasing practices supporting a fair living wage, collaboration is needed. "Collaboration is the best way to tackle the challenges connected to working conditions and wages within the textile industry," said Cecilia Tiblad Berntsson, Social Sustainability Manager at H&M group. "That is why we value the ground-breaking collaboration with 16 other global brands and trade unions within the ACT platform. Our joint goal is to establish mechanisms to support freedom of association and industry-wide collective bargaining."

In addition to ensuring its products and workers are well-made and taken care of, H&M also aims to inspire and educate its consumers on how to take care of their garments to prolong their lifespan. In spring 2018, H&M will pilot its new innovative concept Take Care, which encourages consumers better care for their clothing by refreshing, remaking and repairing.

Photos: Courtesy of the H&M Group

Circular Fashion