Retail Sustainability: H&M Expands Fair Wages, Recycling

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H&M 2014 sustainability report

H&M’s new sustainability report card not only highlights its progress in 2014 on environmentally-conscious sourcing but also how it’s helping garment factory workers by paying them a more equitable wage.

“We started to test the so called Fair Wage Method, developed by the independent Fair Wage Network, in three role model factories,” said CEO Karl Johan Persson of the fast-fashion retailer’s 2014 sustainability progress. “Although it’s still early in the process, the initial results from the first factory that’s been evaluated are promising. Based on these learnings, we aim to scale this up to all our strategic suppliers by 2018 at the latest.”

Other progress last year includes expanding its network of sustainable suppliers of fabrics and yarns, a broader commitment to renewable energy and using recycled cotton, which has saved more than 13,000 tons of textiles, or the amount of fabric in 65 million t-shirts.

“Our business idea is to offer fashion and quality at the best price,” said Persson. “It’s about the best value, not the cheapest prices. Sustainability is an important part of this.”

Ethical watchdog Solidaridad gave the report card its seal of approval. “There is an increasing awareness that sustainability has to be integrated in the total business, including investments and revenue generation. H&M is at the forefront of this paradigm shift and is already putting it into practice.”

H&M is also a partner with Kering in working with textile innovator Worn Again to balance sustainability with the increasing global demand for more cotton and polyester fashion production through a revolutionary fiber-recycling technology that could dramatically reduce the amount of clothing sent to landfill.

The “textile-to-textile, chemical-recycling technology” separates and extracts polyester and cellulose from old or end-of-life clothing and textiles, which can then be recaptured and re-spun into new fabrics. This innovative technology can create a circular resource model for textiles worldwide. H&M will monitor testing for its supply chain while Kering is testing the process with its Puma brand.

“Our technology is at the heart of a global vision which will engage all brands, textile recyclers, suppliers and consumers, in a unified ambition to keep clothing already in circulation out of landfill, and as part of a global pool of resources to be used time and time again,” said Cyndi Rhoades, CEO Worn Again.

“In the long run this can change the way fashion is made and massively reduce the need for extracting virgin resources from our planet,” said Anna Gedda, head of sustainability at H&M, to Vogue UK.

“Innovation is what we need to solve our global environmental challenges,” Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer for Kering, added. “Our collaboration with H&M and Worn Again is a great example of this, demonstrating how we can design and deliver a solution that will be fundamental in eradicating textile waste while simultaneously offering a new type of sustainable raw material for our sport and lifestyle brands.”

H&M was recently named a World’s Most Ethical Company by Ethisphere for the fifth consecutive year.
“These companies use ethics as a means to further define their industry leadership and understand that creating an ethical culture and earning the World’s Most Ethical Companies recognition involves more than just an outward facing message or a handful of senior executives saying the right thing,” noted CEO Timothy Erblich.

On the consumer facing front, H&M’s new 2015 Conscious Exclusive collection from actress and humanitarian Olivia Wilde is an eco-chic effort to introduce shoppers to hemp, organic linen and organic leather.

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