One common theme among the most sustainable companies in the world is that they have assessed and identified opportunities for sustainability throughout their business. Similarly, H&M has incorporated sustainable initiatives in every stage of their business from design to customer use. The company has developed and implemented these initiatives to address the key challenges in the textile industry which include textile waste, clean water, climate change and worker rights. As a company that has stores and suppliers in 61 markets across the world, H&M has the potential to have a global sustainability impact. Ultimately, H&M wants to make sustainable fashion choices available, attractive and affordable to as many people as possible.
“…sustainability is on the minds of so many people at H&M – every day and in all departments… I hear colleagues discussing sustainability over coffee… we’ve come a long way” – H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson
Starting with the design phase, H&M designers make decisions on material selections and looks to minimise the impact on the environment. The company has released its ‘H&M Conscious Collection’ which is designed to be conscious of minimising social and environmental impacts.
Cotton is widely used in the fashion industry but it has significant environmental effects due its intensive water and chemical process. H&M understands this and makes the necessary choices that can minimise water and chemical usage. The company is pursuing greater use of closed loop material, that is, material from old garments are used to make new pieces. H&M allows its customers to deposit their old and unused clothing in their stores with 120,000 tonnes of garments collected from stores in 2015 and 1.3 million pieces manufactured from recycled material. This is a 300% improvement on 2014.
Although H&M has limited control in the process of making yarn into fabrics it works with organisations such as Solidaridad and the Natural Resources Defense Council to improve mills so that they use less chemicals and water and produce less greenhouse gas emissions. H&M is also aiming to increase the coverage of mills their supplier audit system which will provide greater clarity on the entire environmental impact of its products over their life cycles thus identifying new opportunities for sustainability.
Transportation is another area that H&M directly doesn’t have control over but makes up 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions for a garment over its life cycle. The company aims to reduce this impact by choosing modes of transport that are more sustainable, working with transport companies and setting standards to influence their environmental consciousness.
The fashion industry has been widely criticised for its exploitation of cheap labour and poor working conditions but H&M is working to make great improvements in developing high social and environmental standards for its factories. The company is working with its suppliers and monitoring factory compliance to ensure there are fair working wages and safe working environments. Make sure to visit their website for more details.
To reinforce its commitment for sustainability across its business, H&M has released their seven commitments that include:
- Provide fashion for conscious customers
- Choose and reward responsible partners
- Be ethical
- Be climate smart
- Reduce, reuse, recycle
- Use natural resources responsibly
- Strengthen communities
The collective power of consumers has the potential to change the fashion industry by pushing companies like H&M to recycle their old clothes. In America alone 10.5 million tons of clothing is sent to landfills annually with only 15% of clothing recycled or donated. Be the change you want to see in the world by depositing your clothes in stores such as H&M for recycling.