H&M Group Wants All of its Clothing to be Made Using Recycled and Sustainable Components

(Credit: H&M)

The H&M Group is a multinational clothing company. The Swedish retailer is known for “fast fashion,” which is clothing that is made and sold cheaply. The company has shops in 75 locations worldwide with 4,702 stores, although they are marketed under different brands. 

The company positions itself as a leader in the area of sustainability. Its goal is to be carbon positive by 2040. In the nearer term, it wants to reduce its emissions by 56% by 2030, using 2019 as a baseline.

Furthermore, H&M established an internal price on carbon in 2021. It aims to reduce its Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2025. Those emissions fell by 22% between 2019 and 2021. Scope 1 comes from owned and controlled sources, while Scope 2 comes from those sources of energy it purchases from others. 

Also, by 2025, it wants to cut its Scope 3 emissions or those that emanate from its suppliers. Those emissions dropped by 9% between 2019 and 2021.

Meanwhile, it produces its clothing with eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton and recycled polyester. It aims to make all of its clothing using recycled components by 2030. It says it is 65% of the way there now. 

“Customers expect brands to take conscious decisions and move towards a circular economy,” says Leyla Ertur, head of sustainability, H&M Group. “This will not be something you choose to do; this is something you will have to do. We started this journey 15 years ago, and I think we’re in a quite good position to at least understand the challenges in front of us. Of course, there are huge steps to take, but I believe we will start to see the impact of our efforts when it comes to climate, biodiversity, and resource management. I also believe that it will help us in our growth goals because I truly believe our customers will be onboard with us.”

Please explain H&M’s efforts to advance the circular economy.

In March 2021, it launched a pilot project to turn older clothes and items into new clothes and accessories. It says that 500 tons of materials were recycled during the year — with the help of its suppliers. How does it work? 

Workers sort the materials based on composition and color. It is all given to recyclers and registered on a digital platform. “Our teams support the implementation of the waste management practices and help train the staff,” Suhas Khandagale, material innovation & strategy manager at H&M Group. “We have also seen that a clear demand plan for recycled material is essential.” 

Khandagale notes that the pilot taught the company about how to recycle at scale and what the technological holes were when it came to doing so. 

Critics say that H&M’s reliance on “fast fashion” contradicts its commitment to sustainability. That is, it produces too much clothing that is worn and discarded in a short time. For example, it wants to recycle 100% of its clothing by 2030. It now produces 3 billion garments yearly, and it wants to double that by 2030. “For their goal to be met, that would mean that every garment bought in the next eight years would have to be recycled–that’s more than 24 billion clothing items that customers would be expected to return to a recycling site. That doesn’t seem feasible,” says EcoStylist. 

Yes, H&M is dedicated to getting 100% of its materials from recycled or sustainable sources by 2030 and 30% by 2025. In 2021, that figure was at 18%. It says it uses groundbreaking technology called Circulose, made from recycled cotton waste. In 2021, it agreed with Infinited Fiber Company to secure its regenerated textile fiber. In 2021 customers donated nearly 16,000 tons of textiles, less than the previous year because of Covid.

Similarly, H&M is striving to use reusable, plastic-free packaging. By 2025, it wants its packaging to be reusable or recyclable. As of 2021, it puts that number at 68%. “We have reduced plastic packaging by 27.8 percent compared to our baseline year 2018.” 

What are the company’s climate goals? 

H&M’s goal is to cut its greenhouse gases by 56% by 2030 from a 2019 baseline. One of the ways to do this is to source 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Step one is to fuel its operations using clean energy. But the next step is to encourage its suppliers to do the same. The company enters into long-term power purchase agreements that support utility-scale green energy projects. It also uses rooftop solar photovoltaics. 

In 2021, H&M sourced 95% of its electricity to run its operations from renewables. That is up from 90% a year earlier. The gain is because it bought renewable energy certificates — credits that guarantee the generation of wind and solar energy but energy that may not flow directly to the company’s buildings or facilities. 

Between 2019 and 2021, it cut its Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gases by 22%. The company is actively trying to monitor its suppliers and their factories. For example, it says that if they have any on-site coal boilers, managers will not bring them into their value chain. It has trimmed its Scope 3 emissions by 9%. 

Its value chain is expansive, involving more than 600 commercial suppliers that operate 1,200 manufacturing facilities. The process:  

 – Design and product development 

– Raw material sourcing 

– Material production and processing 

– Product processing and manufacturing, which includes apparel, footwear, home, furniture, beauty, accessories, and packaging 

– Transport and warehouse operations 

– Sales 

– Product use and reuse

“We are constantly evaluating investments and acquisitions that could contribute to our continued sustainable growth,” says Chief Executive Helena Helmersson, in the report. “Through our investment arm Co:lab we have around 20 investments in new companies – such as Re:newcell, Ambercycle, and Infinited Fiber, which is developing new techniques within textiles recycling.

“The most significant financial risks resulting from climate change are connected to the possible impact on sales and/or product costs,” the sustainability statement goes on to say deep inside. “During 2021 climate change has not been assessed to be a significant source of uncertainty.”  

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