Eager to shed its reputation as a purveyor of fast fashion, H&M has debuted an accelerated plan for achieving sustainable development goals set forth by the United Nations by 2030.
Aptly named the Impatient Manifesto, H&M Foundation’s new social and environmental strategy brings together 30 of its partners and industry experts to devise a new path forward. The foundation has also committed more than $3.4 million to support these sustainable initiatives. The newly adopted roadmap was developed with the urgency of the U.N.’s timeline in mind, it said. With just nine years to achieve its sustainable development goals, H&M came to a realization: “It’s clear that the necessary changes are not happening at the speed or scale required,” it added.
“Global challenges are deeply interconnected, and the solutions need to be truly holistic to create long-lasting positive change,” the foundation added, noting that diverse partnerships and collaboration will be crucial for the organization as it moves forward. “The new direction means a broader commitment from H&M Foundation, both regarding the scope of our initiatives but also our role as a donor.”
The cash infusion will be diverted into different partnerships that highlight the foundation’s areas of focus, according to Diana Amini, H&M Foundation’s global manager. From there, findings will be openly shared across the industry for anyone to adopt and scale, she said. “In what’s been called the Decade of Action, it’s time to stop looking for best practices in silos, and instead work in cross-sector collaborations to invent next practice together,” she added. “Funders like us need to fundamentally change how we see our role.”
The foundation sees its mission as co-creating, funding and disseminating solutions to the world’s most urgent challenges, from safeguarding human welfare throughout the supply chain and communities where the company operates to becoming “planet positive”—cutting ecological impacts, and ultimately, becoming a source for environmental good.
The plan’s first area of focus is in creating more “inclusive societies” where women in particular are given greater access to opportunities to improve their quality of life. In Bangladesh, for example, the foundation will back female workers through an upskilling program to equip them for labor in a world where automation and digitization are quickly becoming the norm.
H&M, along with a number of its mass-market counterparts, came under fire for its early response to the pandemic, which saw the firm pull back on contracts with workers in the country as retail shutdowns loomed. But the apparel giant, which owns Cos, Weekday and & Other Stories—and was responsible for purchasing $3.5 billion worth of garments from Bangladeshi factories in 2019—quickly reversed its stance and committed to paying for in-progress and completed orders on time.
The Swedish juggernaut also launched a long-term project to benefit the country’s garment workers and their communities in July, donating $1.3 million CARE, Save the Children and WaterAid. The effort was designed to provide emergency relief to roughly 76,000 young women, their families and community members near Dhaka.
“In the next years, the fashion industry must embark on a profound transformation,” Karl-Johan Persson, board member of H&M Foundation and chairman of H&M Group, said in a statement. Persson said the foundation is poised to enact change given the speed and scale of its efforts. “It can act fast, absorb risk and bring urgently needed solutions and practices to the table,” he said. “Developing interesting business models and way of working through innovation is a great way for the industry to transform.”
H&M + WWF
Also an area of focus is a new research program dubbed Planet First, which aims to address ecological challenges beyond climate change, like biodiversity across the earth’s land and water systems. On Friday, H&M Group “renewed” its partnership with the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), expanding upon a decade-long relationship that focused initially on water stewardship. Because the resource is a key ingredient in textile production, many of H&M’s raw material and processing locations are situated near prominent river basins across the world.
According to H&M, the past 10 years have seen the development of a water strategy that reduces risks to people and ecology across the value chain through a shift to cleaner production processes in countries like Turkey and China, where many textiles are produced. In concert with WWF, H&M also successfully lobbied E.U. policymakers for stronger renewable energy targets.
The two groups began a dialogue on climate action in 2016, and started to lay the groundwork to take on broader environmental issues, H&M said. Biodiversity has become a key strategic focus for the next five years of action, it added, as wildlife populations have seen an average decline of 68 percent since 1970—largely due to the impacts of human industry. In concert with WWF, the foundation will develop projects that aim to restore plant and animal species variegation in key landscapes.
“Biodiversity loss is catastrophic for the planet, and as a global company we have an impact in many sensitive areas,” Kim Hellström, H&M Group’s strategy lead for climate and water, said in a statement. “Working with WWF we can ensure that we are heading in the right direction and taking the right decisions, drawing on their experience and expertise.”
Daniel Robertsson, WWF’s Swedish director of civic, public and private sector engagement, is looking forward to the “next phase” of the groups’ work together. “H&M Group has committed to further ambitious action to reduce its value chain’s negative impacts on climate, water and the new important area of biodiversity,” he said, adding that the partnership would help bring to light scalable solutions for the industry at large.
The two groups established a biodiversity project on the island of Borneo in Indonesia in 2018, where forests have been under threat. Species like the rattan palm tree are used commonly in furniture production, and the island’s tree population, which provides a habitat for a wealth of wildlife, including other plants, was being decimated by industry.
H&M and WWF set out to protect the rattan specimens and the tree cover that shades them, contributing to the overall biodiversity of the island’s forests. By adding value to these natural resources and promoting responsible forest management, the program also helped the local population of workers that depend on rattan for their livelihoods, H&M said. The brand’s work in Borneo ultimately aims to create a revenue stream for harvesters of responsible rattan through products for H&M Home.
“Even though we must be proud of our achievements over the years, we must also recognize and manage new and urgent challenges together,” Hellström said. “Sustainability truly is an ongoing journey. Constant improvements are key and there is no end goal.”