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Here’s What H&M and Zara Want for Fashion’s Post-Pandemic Future

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed fashion businesses to the brink, but a growing number of brands and retailers want to turn the crisis into an opportunity to create a resilient, more sustainable industry.

More than 150 global corporations, including Burberry, H&M, Zara owner Inditex, PVH Corp., signed a United Nations-backed statement Monday urging governments to align their COVID-19 economic aid and recovery efforts with ambitious, science-based climate action in a bid to “recover better.”

“With the coronavirus (COVID-19), we are facing a global pandemic that is devastating people and their livelihoods, disrupting supply chains, profoundly deepening inequalities and undoing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals,” the statement reads. “At the same time, we continue to face a global climate emergency with irreversible impacts for people and all the natural systems that sustain us. In the face of these interconnected crises, we cannot afford to tackle one or the other. Human health depends on planetary health. We can—and must—tackle both.”

All 155 companies, which represent a combined market capitalization of more than $2.4 trillion, are calling for policies that will guard against future disruptions by promoting efforts to rein in global temperature increases within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and in line with achieving net-zero emissions “well before” 2050.

The statement arrives as world leaders are preparing not only trillions of dollars in stimulus packages to prop up their pandemic-battered economies but also their enhanced national climate plans under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

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“Saving lives and livelihoods, and building a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable future, are at the heart of our efforts to recover from COVID-19,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “We can beat the virus, address climate change and create new jobs through actions that move us from the grey to green economy.”

A study published by Oxford University earlier this month concluded that incorporating climate targets into policy and spending will reduce vulnerability to future shocks and disasters, create good jobs, cut down emissions and ensure clean air.

“Many companies are showing us that it is indeed possible and profitable to adopt sustainable, emission-reducing plans even during difficult times like this,” Guterres said. “I warmly welcome the ambitious, science-based actions we are seeing from leading companies who are demonstrating to policy-makers that green growth remains the best growth strategy.”

In a separate statement released Tuesday, H&M, which has pledged to become “climate positive” across its entire value chain by 2040, noted the opportunities within the “extraordinary situation” of the pandemic.

“We have the chance to truly reconstruct a better future, and while doing it, we need to ensure that the recovery measures taken today are not at the cost of our planet,” said CEO Helena Helmersson. “It is now more important than ever that companies and governments show leadership standing by their commitments in climate action, and that we take responsibility together.”

On Tuesday, sustainability think tank Global Fashion Agenda published an updated guide—with input from strategic partners like Asos, Besteller, H&M, Kering, Nike, PVH Corp, Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Target—to help fashion leaders navigate the COVID-19 morass.

A recent McKinsey & Company study found that two-thirds of consumers consider sustainability a more important priority to combat climate change in the wake of COVID-19. Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of consumers have indicated a shift toward investments in higher-quality garments and a deepened interest in circular business models such as resale, rental or refurbishment following the coronavirus outbreak.

The report identified six “opportunities”: mapping social and environmental impacts along the value chain, building trust and brand loyalty, raising the bar on supplier relationships and shifting to equal partnerships, addressing stock levels and markdowns by scaling new business models, accelerating the digitization of business processes and building low-carbon and efficient e-commerce platforms.

“I’m well aware of the battlefield fashion leaders are on every day in these weeks and months, and how sheer survival is the top priority for many,” Eva Kruse, CEO of Global Fashion Agenda, said in a statement. “However, this crisis presents an opportunity for us to re-evaluate the lexicon of fashion and, by default, its entire system of operations. I urge fashion leaders to rethink and rebuild systems in a collective effort to ensure a just and resilient future post-pandemic.”