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Sustainable strides: The journey of H&M in fashion leadership

Embark on a thought-provoking expedition into sustainability within the fashion industry with our new series on Images Business of Fashion. In this series, we traverse the intricate pathways of visionary brands committed to reshaping the narrative of fashion through sustainable initiatives. As we journey forward, we uncover the strategies and the profound ethos that propels these brands toward a greener, more responsible future.

In each installment, we unravel the layers of innovation, dedication, and conscious decision-making that define the leadership of these brands. From reimagining supply chains to championing eco-friendly materials, these trailblazers exemplify a paradigm shift towards a more sustainable and ethical fashion landscape.

This week, IMAGES Business of Fashion explores sustainability initiatives by H&M, unveiling their innovative strides in reshaping the fashion industry.

Hennes & Mauritz AB or H&M Group (abbreviated H&M) is a multinational clothing company based in Sweden that focuses on fast-fashion clothing for men, women, teenagers, and children.

As of 23 June 2022, H&M Group operates in:

  • 75 geographical markets
  • 4,801 stores under various company brands
  • 107,375 full-time equivalent positions.

Founded by Erling Persson in 1947, H&M is the second largest international clothing retailer, behind Inditex. The H&M group includes eight clearly defined brands – H&M, COS, Monki, Weekday, & Other Stories, Cheap Monday, H&M Home and ARKET. Together the brands offer customers a wealth of styles and trends in fashion, beauty, accessories, and homewares – as well as experiences that now also include modern, healthy food.

India Presence

H&M opened its first store in India in 2015 and in a little over 7 years has expanded their retail footprint considerably. The brand recently announced the launch of 50th store in Bhubaneswar.

Today, it operates stores across 25 cities that include all the leading metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore as well as other key cities such as Dehradun, Kochi, Bhopal, Jalandhar, Pune, Amritsar, Indore, Coimbatore, Mohali, Mysore, Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Raipur.

The leading retailer in India today, H&M complements its offline presence with a strong online channel. H&M launched their own online platform, hm.com, in March 2018 followed by the launch on Myntra.com in August 2019 with an aim to strengthen their omnichannel strategy of extending a seamless shopping experience both online and offline.

Retail Journey

The company was founded by Erling Persson in 1947 when he opened his first shop in Västerås, Sweden. The shop, called Hennes (Swedish for ‘hers’), exclusively sold women’s clothing. A second store was launched in Norway in 1964.

In 1968, Persson acquired the hunting apparel retailer Mauritz Widforss in Stockholm, which led to the inclusion of a menswear collection in the product range, and the name was changed to Hennes & Mauritz.

The company was listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange in 1974 and in 1976, the first store outside Scandinavia opened in London. H&M continued to expand in Europe and began to retail online in 1998, with the domain hm.com registered in 1997, according to data available via Whois. The first H&M store opened in USA on March 31, 2000, marking the expansion outside Europe.

In 2008, the company announced in a press release that it would begin selling home furnishings. While initially distributed online, the home furnishing items are now sold at H&M Home stores worldwide. Concept stores, including COS, Weekday, Monki, and Cheap Monday, were launched following H&M’s expansion in Asia.

In 2009 and 2010, brand consultancy Interbrand ranked H&M as the twenty-first most-valuable global brand. Its worth was estimated at $12 billion to $16 billion.

H&M operated 2,325 stores at the end of 2011. At the end of August 2012, H&M was operating 304 more stores, bringing the total to 2,629.In September 2013, the retailer opened its 3000th store in Chengdu, China.

Caring for both people and the planet is important at H&M. Starting in February 2013, H&M began offering patrons a voucher in exchange for used garments. Donated garments were to be processed by I:CO, a retailer that repurposes and recycles used clothing with the goal of creating a zero waste economy.

Caring for both people and the planet is important at H&M. Starting in February 2013, H&M began offering patrons a voucher in exchange for used garments. Donated garments were to be processed by I:CO, a retailer that repurposes and recycles used clothing with the goal of creating a zero waste economy.

In April 2014, H&M joined Zara and other apparel companies in changing their supply chain to avoid endangered forests. The company teamed with Canopy, a nonprofit, to remove endangered and ancient forests from their dissolvable pulp supply chain for their viscose and rayon fabrics.

The Approach

Improving the sustainability performance of the value chain also improves the resilience of the business operations. The brand amplifies the positive impact by forming partnerships, participating in dialogue, and sharing progress and learnings. The focus is on three areas:

Innovation: The Circular Innovation Lab supports early-stage innovations to evaluate new and more sustainable materials and technologies, bridging the gap from proof-of-concept projects to pre-commercial projects all the way to commercial production.

  • The B2B service Treadler gives other fashion companies access to H&M Group’s supply chain, hence removing the barriers to sustainable sourcing.
  • H&M uses innovative business models to offer customers easier access to more sustainable lifestyles.

Transparency: Transparency prompts change by:

  • Empowering informed choices- Giving customers information on product and business sustainability so they can make informed decisions aligned with their values.
  • Accelerating sustainable change- Increasing transparency and traceability across the value chain to give us greater oversight and control of the impacts.

Sustainability Highlights for 2021

  • 22% absolute reduction in scope 1 & 2 CO2e emissions and 9% absolute reduction in scope 3 CO2e emissions, compared with 2019 baseline — contributing to the target to reduce absolute scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 56% by 2030.
  • Tripled the share of recycled materials used in the garments from 5.8% to 17.9%.
  • 27.8% reduction in plastic packaging.
  • 23,253 employees received the Layers inclusion and diversity training.

H&M reduced production water use by 6.6% compared to last year and also continued the work with WWF to set context specific (contextual) water targets and to develop the new 2030 Water Strategy.

  • From January 1, 2022, H&M will not to onboard any new suppliers or supplier factories into the supply chain if they have on-site coal boilers in their factories — as part of a longer-term aim to phaseout coal from the supply chain.
  • By 2030, achieve a 25% reduction in electricity intensity in the stores, from a 2016 baseline.
  • By 2030, source 100% renewable electricity in the own operations.
  • By 2030, the electricity sourced in the supply chain will be 100% renewable.
  • By 2025, source 30% recycled materials.
  • Carbon removals: The brand aims to find nature-based and engineered solutions for removing GHGs from the atmosphere. Future investments in carbon removals will primarily serve to neutralise the residual emissions in order to achieve net-zero value chain emissions.

H&M’s Climate Positive Approach

H&M Climate Positive Approach

Biodiversity

Biodiversity is a foundation for healthy ecosystems and communities. The virgin natural materials in H&M’s products depend upon fertile soil and healthy forests.

H&M is developing targets and actions to support this ambition, in line with the ARRRT (Avoid, Reduce, Restore & Regenerate, Transform) framework. The work on biodiversity has strong links with the existing goals and activities on climate, water, materials, circularity and resource use, and chemicals. It is working to source more materials farmed with regenerative practices. These practices aim to improve environmental wellbeing by increasing soil fertility, biodiversity, soil carbon sequestration, water retention and cleanliness, while contributing to community resilience and livelihoods.

Circular Ecosystem

In 2021, H&M took meaningful steps towards becoming more circular — although the brand knows there is still much work ahead.

The brand tripled the volume of recycled materials used in the garments and confirmed the ambition for all the products to be designed for circularity by 2025 — supported by the new circular design tool Circulator.

H&M launched a blueprint for a circular fashion industry within planetary boundaries, the product of a three-year research project by the Stockholm Resilience Centre together with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, funded by H&M Group.

Optimising Resource Use

Today, offcuts and scraps generated in the production process or during product delivery are considered waste. H&M’s vision is that the whole mindset of the fashion industry shifts to treat this waste as the valuable resource it is. Similarly, faulty clothes or pre-loved items that have reached the end of their time with the customers offer a wealth of materials that can be recovered, reused and eventually recycled into new products.

To proactively optimise resource use, H&M:

  • Optimises supply to produce to demand. The brand increasingly applies predictive artificial intelligence (AI) to optimise the supply chain and match production with demand. They use multiple solutions for quick reactions to fashion trends, quantification, timing and allocation of products. This has led to even more relevant customer offering with more full price sales and fewer markdowns, as well as a more efficient use of resources.
  • Support Resource-Efficient Production: H&M works closely together with suppliers to use resources as efficiently as possible, guided by the Responsible Waste Management Guidelines.
  • Puts faulty products to good use: If a product is faulty, H&M reuses or recycles the materials wherever possible.
  • Increases recycling: The brand works to improve and scale automatic sorting and efficient textile recycling. It also works to optimise resource use at the stores, distribution centres and offices, during product delivery, and by maximising product life.

Design

H&M aims to design all the products for circularity by 2025. Circular design is an important enabler for circular business models and is a crucial part of reducing resource use, which helps to meet the climate and biodiversity goals. The teams use tools such as Material Categorisation to inform the selection of materials.

The majority of the H&M’s brands began testing the Circulator prototype, which was publicly launched in November 2021. The tool supports teams to measure the circular potential of products, providing a circular product score that considers the materials and design strategies chosen in relation to a product’s purpose.

Environmental Impact

Progress: Overall

  • To reduce the environmental impact, H&M aims for 100% of the materials to be either recycled or sourced in a more sustainable way by 2030, including 30% recycled materials by 2025.
  • Achieved 80.0% recycled or other more sustainably sourced materials, including tripling the share of recycled materials to 17.9% (largely due to increased volumes of recycled cotton and polyester), making good progress towards the 2030 goal.
  • Established a new internal Material organisation to accelerate the sustainable materials strategy. The organisation will work closely with the assortments teams to scale up innovations and sustainable material sourcing across H&M Group.

Progress: Cotton

In 2020, H&M successfully achieved the goal to source 100% more sustainably sourced cotton (recycled, organic and other more sustainably sourced cotton).

In 2021, the sourcing of other more sustainably sourced cotton contributed to:

  • 30 billion gallons of water being saved.
  • 73,287 kilograms of pesticides being avoided.
  • USD 59 million additional profit for farmers.

Progress: Wood & Man-made Cellulosic (MMC) Fibers

By end of 2025, source responsible viscose in line with the commitment to the changing markets roadmap.

By end of 2025, all wood and paper used in the H&M’s products and packaging will be made of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified or recycled materials.

By end of 2025, H&M to source MMC fibers from FSC-certified sources or replace them with next-generation fibers from sources such as agricultural residues and pre- and post-consumer textiles.

H&M Group’s Circular Innovation Lab have worked with SPINNOVA® and the first products using their low impact recyclable fiber made of certified wood will be launched in spring 2022. 78% wood in the packaging is FSC-certified.

Signed the Fashion Forever Green Pact, an FSC initiative to promote responsible sourcing of MMC fibers. TreeToTextile, part-owned by the H&M group, continued upscaling production of its low cost, 100% traceable cellulosic fiber, sourced from sustainably managed forests.

Progress: Leather

50.7% (44% in 2020) of all leather products were produced with chrome-free tanned leather, including vegetable tanned leather and metalfree leather. By end of 2025, H&M aims animal-based leather to be chrome-free.

H&M maintained the search for bio-based leather alternatives and used Desserto, a leather alternative partly made from cactus.

Progress: Recycled & Innovative Materials

63.7% of the polyester is from recycled sources (according to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index), which have a significantly lower carbon footprint than conventional sources.

H&M has set a new goal to phase out virgin polyester and source 100% recycled polyester by 2025, in support of Textile Exchange’s Recycled Polyester Challenge.

Material Matters the Most

To accelerate the development of recycling technologies and use of more sustainable materials in Europe, the brand continued to engage in the European Union projects DEMETO,1 EFFECTIVE and New Cotton. H&M also increased the usage of innovative materials, including:

Fairbrics: The Circular Innovation Lab made the first garment using this potentially climate positive technology, which was worn by the CEO, Helena Helmersson at the Fashion CEO Agenda 2021. Fairbrics is a Global Change Award winner.

FLWRDWN™: Down-alternative made using hand-picked wildflowers and recycled biological materials, used by COS and H&M.

Liva Reviva: Viscose fiber made from preconsumer textile waste and wood pulp, used by H&M HOME and Monki. In addition, & Other Stories and COS used Livaeco — made fromfully traceable FSC certified fibers.

Naia™ Renew: Fiber from sustainably sourced wood pulp and recycled waste plastics, used by ARKET and COS.

Packaging

To prevent damage and waste, H&M products must be protected as they travel between suppliers, distribution centres, stores and customers. The brand is committed to reducing the impact of its packaging as part of its focus on reducing resource use.

Guided by its Circular Packaging Strategy, H&M focuses on addressing priority areas first where greatest impact can be achieved – like reducing unnecessary and problematic packaging, including plastic packaging.

  • Reduce packaging across our value chain 25% by 2025 (2018 baseline), including an absolute reduction in plastic packaging of 25% by 2025 (2018 baseline).
  • Design 100% of packaging to be reusable and/or recyclable by 2025.
  • Make 100% of packaging from recycled or other more sustainably sourced materials by 2030, with a preference for post-consumer recycled materials.
  • Reuse or recycle 100% of packaging waste from its own sites by 2025.

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