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H&M Wants to Strengthen Fashion’s Commitment to Biodiversity. It’s Not the Only One.

H&M is going all in on biodiversity.

The Swedish retailer announced Tuesday a four-year non-earmarked financial contribution to the work of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent body, comprising 137 member governments, that examines policies related to biodiversity and sustainable development.

IPBES is set to plan and scope a new three-year expert assessment of the “impact and dependence of business on biodiversity and nature’s contribution to people,” the organization said in a statement. The assessment, it added, will identify criteria and indicators to measure this impact and dependence while considering how such metrics can be integrated into broader sustainability policies.

“Responsible private sector engagement with science and evidence is vital to ensure the protection and promotion of biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people,” said Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of IPBES. “The IPBES Global Assessment Report identified key leverage points for transformations to sustainability—such as visions of what constitutes a good life, consumption and waste, technology, innovation and investment, as well as values and action. Private sector efforts directed at these leverage points can yield exceptional results.”

News of the assessment comes as governments are preparing to establish a 2030 global framework to slow the decline and extinction of the planet’s animal and plant life. The summit was scheduled to take place next month in Kunming, China, but has since been provisionally rescheduled to May because of the pandemic.

Similar to how government policy decisions are more effective when informed by the best available evidence and expertise, Larigauderie said, “better-informed business decisions and actions are essential for the transformative change we need.”

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H&M’s unspecified largesse will help tackle biodiversity loss and the climate crisis, which CEO Helena Helmersson called “two of the most pressing issues of our time.”

“As the global fashion retailer that we are, and with the ambition that we have—to become climate positive by 2040—we have a big role to play by leading by example and inspiring others to address both climate change and biodiversity,” Helmersson said. “We must take responsibility for our future together.”

Biodiversity has increasingly become a hot-button issue for the fashion industry, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown into relief the vital roles biodiversity management and wildlife conservation play in preventing potential spillovers of diseases from animals to humans.

In July, luxury conglomerate Kering touted a slew of targets for achieving a “net positive” impact on biodiversity by 2025, including converting 1 million hectares of farms and rangelands into regenerative agriculture, protecting an additional 1 million hectares of critical “irreplaceable” habitat outside its supply chain through programs that support biodiversity protection, carbon sequestration and livelihood improvements, and launching a Kering for Nature Fund to help the fashion industry accelerate its shift to regenerative agriculture.

“Thriving biodiversity is intrinsically linked to the long-term viability of our industry, and society more broadly. Integrating a dedicated biodiversity strategy—which is now part of our wider sustainability strategy—into Kering’s day-to-day operations is pivotal for our contribution to bending the curve on biodiversity loss over the next years,” Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer at Kering, which owns brands such as Balenciaga, Gucci and Saint Laurent, said at the time. “Business has a serious role to play in shifting towards a ‘nature-positive’ economy and…it is important that Kering’s strategy aligns with the scientific community so that we are already on the right path and taking the actions that are urgently needed.”

Last month, McKinsey & Company described biodiversity as sustainable fashion’s “next frontier,” warning brands and retailers they need to address their complicity in biodiversity loss, deforestation, soil degradation and waterway pollution before it’s too late. Without severe intervention, it said, 1 million marine and terrestrial species—the equivalent of between 12 percent and 20 percent of the variety of life on the planet—are poised to vanish forever.

Soon, a coalition of more than 30 environmental organizations and consultancies will release interim guidance for Science Based Targets for Nature, a Science Based Targets Network-led initiative that will help businesses fix goals for biodiversity conservation much like they did with climate emissions.

Helmersson of H&M agrees that the fashion industry is “undoubtedly” dependent on nature and healthy ecosystems.

“Formalizing our ambition for biodiversity will help us to operate within the planetary boundaries, while creating a more resilient supply chain and steering our business towards meaningful growth,” she said. “To further develop our actions towards a sustainable future, we want to strengthen our position through collaborations with important stakeholders. With that said, we are very excited about our brand new partnership with IPBES, which will support us in developing our approach on biodiversity, agriculture and water.”