Make it last: H&M recently launched its Conscious Actions Sustainability Report 2014. How would you summarize H&M’s main sustainability achievements over the last years? What key issues does H&M aim to focus on in the years to come?
Anna Brismar: Spring is the time when most fashion companies release their annual sustainability reports. In March, H&M launched its sustainability report for 2014, titled H&M Conscious Actions. The report presents H&M’s overall commitments, performance levels, work progress, and action plans in the field of sustainability. The sustainability commitments are formulated as follows: (1) to provide fashion for conscious customers; (2) to choose and reward responsible partners; (3) to be ethical; (4) to be climate smart; (5) to reduce, reuse, recycle; (6) to use natural resources responsibly; and (7) to strengthen communities. Together, these seven commitments make up H&M’s overall sustainability strategy, called “H&M Conscious”. To realize this strategy, H&M has launched hundreds of Conscious Actions.
Building on these commitments, the sustainability work of H&M focuses on five key performance areas, as presented in the Sustainability Report (here summarized):
1. Garment collection to close the loop on textile fibers or to “do good”
Since the launch of its garment collection initiative in early 2013, H&M aims to continue increasing the volume of garments collected in H&M stores. After collection and sorting, the donated garments will either be reused directly as second hand items (mainly on the global market), or reused as textile material for industrial purposes (as stuffing, isolation etc.). In 2014, H&M also donated over 4 million garments to charitable causes. In the future, collected textiles will also be used as recycled fibers, to close the loop on textiles. (Already, some textiles are being mechanically recycled into new yarn, yet still at limited extent.)
2. Improved performance and transparency within the supply chain
H&M wants to make all of their products more sustainable, “piece by piece, all the way from the cotton farm” (p. 13). Promoting conscious choices in the design process is part of this strategy. H&M also works to increase the sustainability performance of their supplier factories, such as in Asia and other parts of the world. In addition, supply chain transparency is high on the agenda. As of 2014, 35 % of H&M’s all products have fabrics and yarns suppliers that were part of the public supplier factory list, according to the Report.
3. Increased use of more sustainable materials in production
Another strategy of H&M is to increase the share of more sustainable materials that are used in production in relation to the total materials used. This may be certified organic fibers (of cotton, linen or wool), better cotton, or recycled fibers (for example recycled polyester). In terms of cotton, H&M aims to increase the percentage of “better cotton” (BCI), certified organic cotton, and recycled cotton used in production. H&M also works to increase its total share of recycled polyester. During 2014, H&M used recycled polyester corresponding to almost 40 million PET bottles. As stated in the Report, “we are constantly on the lookout for innovative materials and processes that can make our products more sustainable” (p. 16).
The collection Conscious Exclusive 2015 is another action by H&M towards a more sustainable fashion future. With this, “we want to show that sustainable fashion is ready for the red carpet”. The permanent Conscious range, however, is available for a broader range of items all year long. In 2014, H&M also launched its first Conscious Denim collection, which is made of more sustainable materials (such as organic or recycled cotton), and also uses on average 56% less water and 58% less energy than comparable denim.
4. Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and electricity use
Furthermore, H&M aims to reduce the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted annually across its supply chains. H&M also works to reduce the amount electricity used in brand stores per year. “We will further reduce our climate impacts by going all in for renewable electricity wherever this is credibly available and feasible already by 2015.” (p. 69)
5. Improved working conditions and the creation of new jobs
In 2014, H&M entered an agreement with the International Labor Organization (ILO) “to work together to strengthen fair negotiations and working conditions” in garment production. Also, H&M has set the goal for all of their strategic supplier factories to have “democratically elected workplace representation in place by 2018” (p. 8).
6. Promotion of clever care by consumers
In 2014, H&M launched their clever care symbol, a washing and care instructions label and website in cooperation with GINETEX. The clever care symbol intends to help customers take better care of their garments through more gentle and less frequent washing practices. The aim is to reduce the total amount of water and energy consumed during a garment’s lifetime, but also to prolong its total lifetime.
Sustainability work ahead
In coming years, H&M will continue its work within the above key sustainability areas. In addition, H&M aims to work harder to meet the following objectives: (i) to replace solvent-based glues in production of shoes and other accessories; (ii) to develop an updated strategy to promote high environmental, social and animal welfare standards in leather production; (iii) to update the current Code of Conduct; (iv) to ensure that all new supplier factories are screened and audited before first order placement; (v) to “reach all of our colleagues with our learning management system “GROW””; (vi) to reduce electricity use in H&M (brand) stores per square meter; (vii) to recycle at least 95% of waste handled in H&M warehouses; and (viii) to reduce water use and withdrawal at all supplier factories having wet processes.
Moreover, during the next couple of years, H&M will also work to realize some new (!) targets, such as: (a) to only use wool from certified sources by year 2018; and (b) to only use down from certified sources by year 2016. For more information, please read the Report.
This article was originally written and published for Make it last on May 20 (2015). Republished here with permission.