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H&M: Sustainability Could Play ‘Even More Crucial Role’ in Facing Retail’s Newest Challenges

Even amid the chaos caused by the coronavirus, some brands are holding fast to sustainability commitments made during brighter days.

On Thursday, H&M Group released its Sustainability Performance Report for 2019, highlighting the company’s efforts to combat climate change and promote circularity in its supply chain.

According to the report, H&M group used 97 percent recycled or sustainably sourced cottons in 2019, and has committed to continuing on that trajectory. The company said it will not source any “conventional” cotton for its collections this year, or at all moving forward.

More than half (57 percent) of H&M’s materials are now either recycled or sourced more sustainably, and that it’s on track to meet its goal of reaching 100 percent by 2030.

Additionally, all the fast-fashion firm’s 600 textile and leather suppliers are now enrolled in the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals program.

Building upon refinements to its supply chain, H&M said it’s exploring new circular business models and has launched programs related to customization, repair, renewal, rental and re-commerce over the past year, as well as beginning the switch to reusable packaging.

More than 29,000 tons of garments were collected for recycling or reuse, the company said, and experimental new materials were created from algae, pineapple and other fruits.

In March, H&M partnered with Swedish company Re:newcell to release Circulose, a “climate-friendly” material derived from old jeans, T-shirts and other discarded cotton apparel.

“I am proud of all the progress we did in 2019,” Anna Gedda, the company’s head of sustainability, said in a statement. “Looking ahead, not only our industry will continue changing rapidly, but also the world as a whole.”

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Gedda went on to acknowledge that 2020 began with an unprecedented challenge in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak, an issue that is impacting companies and societies worldwide.

Despite the disruption that the pandemic has caused to the world’s retailers, and more broadly, the global economy, she insisted that sustainability efforts shouldn’t be pushed to the back burner.

“I am confident that the long-term vision we always had, and will continue having, on sustainability will play an even more crucial role in facing these challenges,” she said. “It will be more important than ever to continue our journey towards a circular economy and sustainable consumption while creating prosperity through job opportunities.”

The company’s efforts over the past year have landed it a top-five spot on Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index, and H&M said 1,332 of its supplier factories, mills and processing facilities reported to the Higg Index Facility Environment Module in 2019.

Highlighting H&M’s action with regard to climate change, water conservation and deforestation prevention, environmental reporting group the Carbon Disclosure Project included the company on its 2019 A List of top performers.

In light of the international health crisis that has prompted a nosedive in consumer demand, H&M has also promised to honor orders from its network of international suppliers and manufacturers. Despite having temporarily closed 3,441 stores in key markets across the globe due to COVID-19, the company is for now taking these orders.

“We will stand by our commitments to our garment manufacturing suppliers by taking delivery of the already produced garments as well as goods in production,” H&M confirmed to Sourcing Journal Monday. “We will of course pay for these goods and we will do it under agreed payment terms. In addition, we will not negotiate prices on already placed orders. This is not only the case in Bangladesh, but for all production countries.”