Why has the H&M group updated its sustainability strategy?
The H&M group has been committed to sustainability for a long time, and we are proud of what we have achieved so far. But the fashion industry is still facing big challenges and we need to rethink how fashion is made and used. We have the size, scale and ambition to help lead that change. Sustainability is fundamental to the future of our business. Looking 20 or 30 years ahead, we need a strategy that will both help ensure that our planet has enough resources to go around and that enables us to use and produce those materials in a sustainable way. Our new strategy is built on years of hard work and experiences of both successes and setbacks. But all of the original building blocks, such as setting long term goals, collaboration and integrating sustainability in all of our business operations, are still there. Our seven Conscious Commitments helped us achieve a lot, and our new vision and focus areas will take us even further.
What makes the H&M group’s sustainability strategy unique?
Many things. First, our ambition. We want to lead the change towards a circular and renewable fashion industry while also being a fair and equal company. That is a huge commitment to make.
Second, the size of our business. We are one of the world’s biggest fashion companies. This comes with both responsibility and opportunities as we have a unique reach and possibility to create change. Because of this, our sustainability ambitions won’t just set our agenda, they will help drive change across the industry.
The third thing that makes our strategy unique is that it is about true sustainability. We are not here to outperform our competitors. It doesn’t matter if we have the smallest carbon footprint compared to anyone else. Instead, we are using a scientific approach to find out where our planet needs us to be – in terms of our environmental and social impact – and then setting goals around that.
And finally, because there is simply no way we will be able to reach these goals without getting our customers, employees, business partners and other stakeholders on board, our strategy is founded on the need for engagement and collaboration.
How can you continue to expand while also becoming more sustainable?
According to the UN, there will be 9.7 billion people living on this planet by 2050, with a rapidly growing middle class. We believe that all of these people should be able to access and afford clothes they love that are also sustainable – no matter where they live or how much money they have. To accomplish this, we have to grow our business sustainably and move towards a circular use of resources. That means making sure our growth is not linked to, or dependent on, similar growth in our resource use. It won’t happen overnight, but we will get there.
Leadership is obviously a key element of the new strategy. Why is that?
Our size, scale and influence mean that we have both a responsibility to do the right thing and an opportunity to create real, lasting change. We have the ability to create large-scale impacts that few others have. For me, being a leader means using this position to lead by example and break new ground. By testing new ideas or doing what others have not done before, we can pave the way and try new things. This will also hopefully lead others to follow our example or join us in our movement for change.
Of course, while being first gives you an advantage, it also means you are more likely to make mistakes. That’s why it is important to remember that perfect is the enemy of good. Instead of putting brands off from taking the kind of bold steps we need, I hope that we can celebrate the milestones that take us closer to a more sustainable industry. I believe leadership deserves both scrutiny and encouragement, and I hope our efforts will attract both.
What does 100% mean?
Basically, ‘100%’ is our ultimate ambition, and it will take us decades to achieve. Any company can say it wants to become circular, but unless we all aim for 100% we’ll never fully get there. We want to be part of the solution and help advance science in this area, and to do that we need to be transparent about our ambitions. Our roadmap doesn’t have all the answers on how we’ll get there, but we do know you have to be bold to make things happen. For us, 100% is not necessarily an exact measurement, but a way to demonstrate our ambition and create action – both within our company and outside of it.
Which sustainability achievements are you most proud of from 2016?
I’m really proud of our ambition to become 100% Circular. It’s a big, daring commitment, and I see it is an achievement to have made it. Obviously, it’s the starting point for much more to come! Looking at the challenges around resource use that not only our, but all industries face, this marks such an important step towards a more sustainable way of making and enjoying fashion.
I’m also proud of the steps we’ve taken to become more transparent, in particular the extent to which we’ve implemented and used the Higg Index to evaluate our suppliers. The Higg Index exists to help businesses like ours get a clear picture of our environmental, social and labour impacts and identify areas for improvement. It takes time to both create a universal standard and for it to be adopted industry-wide to work. No other brand of our size has made this kind of commitment to transparency yet, but we hope that by us using it, others will follow.
After a successful first year, we also extended our Global Framework Agreement to become a permanent collaboration with IndustriALL and the Swedish trade union IF Metall. We see this as a foundation for creating a well-functioning dialogue between our suppliers and local trade unions, which is necessary for lasting improvements in all areas of working conditions, including fair living wages.
Finally, I would like to mention the work we’re doing to engage our customers to be more sustainable. We need their help if we’re going to reach our goals. For example, since we introduced our garment collecting initiative globally in 2013, we have gathered almost 39,000 tonnes of garments to give them a new life so nothing goes to waste. By showing them that sustainability is part of the H&M group’s brands, we’re changing their behaviour when it comes to caring for and disposing of clothes. Our objective is to make fashion sustainable and sustainability fashionable.
What does sustainability mean to you?
For me, it’s very real and a big part of both my professional and private life. I have two young children and I want to know that I’m leaving them a better world to build their lives in. That means everything from taking care of how we use resources to helping people around the world enjoy good and healthy lives in a more fair and inclusive society. I’m really proud to be working for a company that wants to be part of making this change happen.