Hennes & Mauritz AB keeps making advances on the sustainability front.
In its 14th annual conscious actions sustainability report published Thursday, the Swedish fast-fashion giant said 78 percent of its electricity used came from renewable sources in 2015, up from 27 percent in 2014. At the same time, its total emissions were reduced by 56 percent.
Last year, H&M collected 12,000 tons of textiles for reuse through its in-store garment-collection program. That’s the equivalent of 65 million T-shirts.
“When it comes to engaging our customers, the garment-collecting initiative is actually the second most well-known sustainability initiative that we do, aside from our Conscious Collection,” Cecilia Brännsten, H&M’s sustainability business expert, told WWD.
The retailer reported that sustainably sourced materials made up 20 percent of the total material it used, up from 14 percent in 2014. Organic cotton, recycled cotton and Better Cotton (certified by the Better Cotton Initiative) represented 31.4 percent of H&M’s cotton intake in 2015, versus 21.2 percent in the prior year. The company’s goal is to only use cotton from sustainable sources by 2020 and set a timeline which will determine when they will reach a stage of using 100 percent recyclable and sustainable sources of materials.
Meanwhile, with its reprocessed polyester products, the brand recycled the equivalent of 90 million PET bottles.
In addition, H&M said it signed a global framework agreement with the Geneva-based IndustriALL Global Union and Swedish union IF Metall that aims to promote dialogue about fair wages between employers and employees at the supplier factories working with H&M.
For transparency’s sake, the retailer included second-tier companies, which are responsible for about 50 percent of H&M products, in its 2015 sustainability assessment.
H&M’s latest edition of Conscious Exclusive line of red-carpet looks made from more sustainable materials hit stores last week. It involves innovative materials, such as beads and rhinestones created with recycled glass and Denimite, made of recycled worn-out denim.
Anna Gedda, H&M’s head of sustainability, explained that the collection allows the company to build demand for sustainable clothing, which will ensure that they maintain their accessible price points.
“The collection is quite small so it gives us the opportunity to really experiment. Items that might be too expensive or hard to create in a big scale, such as Denimite, can actually be made as part of a small collection. Doing this will increase the demand for it in the future and consequently the supply and ultimately lower the prices. That is how we managed to increase our use of organic cotton,” she explained.
At an event held at H&M’s London showroom, the company revealed its long-term ambition of becoming 100 percent circular.
“We will need a holistic approach to circularity,” said Brännsten. “It will include the whole life cycle from design, what chemicals we put into our products, material choice, production processes and new ways of enjoying fashion by reuse, rental and repair.”
In a panel discussion about the concept of circularity, Gedda was joined by world-class sailor Ellen MacArthur as well as the two winners of H&M’s Global Change Award, Michael Arnor and Akshay Sethi.
Sethi invented the “Polyester Digester,” a method of using microbes to recycle waste polyester, while Arnor is the cofounder of Sellpy, a start-up based in Sweden through which customers can sell unwanted clothing.
Gedda explained that innovation is key to achieving the company’s goals, which is why they invested in Arnor’s and Sethi’s start-ups.
McArthur, who familiarized herself with the concept of living on finite resources during her solo sailing trip across the world, founded the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2010 in order to work towards achieving a circular economy. She stressed the need for a “systematic change to the economy’s predominantly linear model.”
H&M recently embarked on a partnership with the foundation. “They are all about connecting different data in the industry. Ellen [MacArthur] is working with everyone from governments, to policymakers and universities and I think to make this happen, all these institutions have to come together. So in that respect, they are a brilliant partner for H&M,” said Gedda.
According to Gedda, a fundamental change in the mindset of the consumer is essential to help the company achieving their goal. “The key is to make people feel like they can actually act on the issue. Sometimes it can be frustrating to know but not be able to do anything to change it. I think that is why we succeeded with the garment collection because it is not just about people being informed about the challenges but actually being part of the solution,” said Gedda.
The campaign and video H&M shot with singer M.I.A. to launch World Recycle Week is another initiative by the company to push out its sustainable message. The British artist wrote a song, “Rewear It,” to support the cause and will be performing at a consumer event at H&M’s London flagship on Regent Street, Thursday evening.
“M.I.A. has a great personal style to begin with and great engagement when it comes to environmental issues. Her mother was a seamstress and she understands the value of the products and of the clothes that she is wearing. She is such a great ambassador for H&M, as she really embodies our thinking,” added Gedda.