H&M leads a ranking of brands for sourcing preferred cotton, according to a Textile Exchange report that shows the industry continues to make strides in choosing more sustainable and circular materials, though the global pandemic has caused some distraction.
Textile Exchange’s new 2019 Material Change Insights Report offers insights about the state of fiber and materials sourcing in the textiles sector in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Liesl Truscott, Textile Exchange European and materials strategy director, who leads the program, said the biggest takeaway, and probably the most encouraging, “was to see climate change fully on the risk radar for many companies.”
“Likewise, with circularity,” Truscott told Sourcing Journal. “We see this as a positive sign of engagement with critical systemic business challenges. There is a way to go from risk recognition, strategy development and target-setting to full implementation, and even further to achieve real quantifiable outcomes and impacts. That’s one of the key drivers behind the benchmark–to accelerate action, measure progress and give recognition for that progress. We want to support and celebrate individual companies but also share good practices to inspire and equip others through a race to the top.”
A key finding in the report shows that the 170 voluntary brand participants sourced nearly 40 percent of their materials from preferred sources in 2018, collectively converting 1.7 million metric tons of materials to preferred. This resulted in a saving of 1 million metric tons of greenhouse gases.
Sweden led the race to the top, with 12 companies headquartered in the Nordic nation accounting for 40 percent of the preferred materials reported. In addition, 66 percent of companies said they have started aligning their business strategy with the United nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, 71 percent have not set measurable targets within their goal alignment.
“We were a little surprised, disappointed, to see low levels of engagement and alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals,” Truscott said. “We believe the SDGs help with holistic thinking and collaborative action for people and planet health.”
Some 86 percent of companies responding to the circularity module have a circularity strategy, but coverage and investment are still limited. For example, only about 0.06 percent of reported recycled materials come from post-consumer textile waste as opposed to pre-consumer materials.
Companies are responding to COVID-19 in myriad ways, Truscott said. Most have retained or strengthened their commitment to sustainable sourcing, while others are still on the outside looking in.
“Amidst tragedy and chaos, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the deep interconnectedness that exists between people and planetary systems,” Truscott said. “It shows the turmoil that can result when one element of the system is out of balance, a situation that is certain to repeat itself many times over if we ignore long-term risks like climate change.”
Forward-looking companies, she said, are recognizing the need to “double-down” on their commitments and see the current pandemic as a taste of things to come and the “longer-term impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss as strong motivators to maintain or step up on their materials sustainability work.”
“However, there is a real risk of decreased or slower progress for others,” Truscott added. “Companies that are not engaged in sustainability or already strategizing around materials may be less likely to start the journey right now and, of course, those severely impacted economically will have fewer resources to dedicate.”
Among the largest fashion companies in the world, H&M earned a number of distinctions in the Textile Exchange report. The Swedish firm topped the ranking for its use of preferred cotton, which encompasses organic cotton, recycled cotton and cotton sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative. It also garnered accolades for using down certified by the Responsible Down Standard, which complements its sourcing of recycled cotton, recycled wool, recycled nylon and lyocell.
“Being ranked as a leading company in sustainable materials sourcing is a great recognition to all the hard work we do every day to make our business more sustainable,” said Cecilia Brännsten, H&M Group’s environmental sustainability manager. “But that doesn’t mean we are done yet, there is still work to do to increase the use of recycled materials and push for innovative materials. We are fully committed to use our size and scale to lead the way towards a more sustainable fashion future.”
The report draws on exclusive data provided through Textile Exchange’s Corporate Fiber & Materials Benchmark (CFMB) program, a peer-to-peer comparison initiative. The CFMB program analyzes self-reported company data to track materials sourcing progress for individual firms as well as the industry at large.
The resulting Material Change Insights Report gives a data-backed, comprehensive analyses of how the industry is progressing in its shift to preferred materials, as well as alignment with global efforts like the SDGs and the transition to a circular economy. Truscott said the report can help people and companies “rethink the textiles industry to make it fit for the future.”
Textile Exchange also invites brands, retailers and, for the first time, manufacturers, to participate in the 2020 CFMB survey, which is set to kick off in June. The 2019 report was authored by Textile Exchange’s Fiber and Materials team, with circularity content developed with global consultancy Corporate Citizenship and support from media partner GreenBiz.
Textile Exchange is a global nonprofit that develops, manages and promotes a suite of leading industry standards and collects and publishes vital industry data and insights that enable brands and retailers to measure, manage, and track their use of preferred fiber and materials.