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H&M Group and Walmart Lead ‘Race to Zero’ Emissions

Four leading global retail firms have come together with the shared goal of promoting significant climate action.

On Wednesday, Sweden’s H&M Group and Ingka Group—which owns Ikea—joined European home improvement retail firm Kingfisher Plc. and Walmart to launch the Race to Zero. The retailers have partnered with the COP26 High Level Climate Action Champions to advance their mission of combatting climate change, and the effort will be supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

The initiative’s goal is specific: to encourage international members of the retail community to join in the fight to reduce carbon emissions, ultimately limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in accordance with the guidelines established by the Paris Agreement. When the accord was drafted in 2015, its aim was to substantially curb greenhouse gas emissions from all major countries responsible, and retail leaders have a major role to play in achieving that goal, the group said.

According to Race to Zero, the retail sector’s unprecedented pandemic-related challenges have only been exacerbated by the continued threat of climate change, which changes the way that supply chains operate, from the cultivation of raw materials through production to transport to the end consumer. While brands have long espoused a desire to combat global warming, a true, sector-wide de-carbonization strategy has been lacking, it added. Just 5 percent of retail businesses have committed to Paris Agreement goals.

Retailers can do their part by setting science-based targets and working to halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the group said. They must commit to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest, it added. The campaign aims to provide retail industry-specific guidance to achieve these metrics, while giving companies access to leading climate experts and best practices. Race to Zero will work with industry trade associations to drive awareness about the effort and share resources, with the goal of promoting further adoption.

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“I encourage the retail industry to join us and take immediate climate action to halve global emissions by 2030,” Nigel Topping, a UN climate champion for COP26, said in a statement. “Together, we can win the Race to Zero.”

WBCSD president and CEO Peter Bakker noted that other leading firms should follow H&M, Ingka, Kingfisher and Walmart’s example and work to “showcase leadership and commitment” in the fight to protect both “people and planet.”

Earlier this year, H&M launched the Impatient Manifesto, an accelerated social and environmental strategy designed to help the firm and its partners achieve sustainable development goals set for by the UN. Meanwhile, big-box chain Walmart’s Project Gigaton, launched in 2017, aims to curb 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030—and has managed to prevent 375 million metric tons from seeping into the atmosphere as of this spring. The program doesn’t just target the company’s own operations—it seeks to help Walmart’s suppliers set their own goals.

“This campaign is a call to retailers everywhere to take ambitious climate action as they increasingly recognize the risks posed by climate change across their supply chains and operations,” Bakker said of Race to Zero. The climate emergency and its impacts to the natural world have also led to a rise in inequalities, disproportionately imperiling underserved populations in developing countries. Industries must come together to rethink the way they operate, as “governments, investors and businesses are uniting to support a pathway to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

The issue has become “the greatest and most complex” challenge of our time, he added.