H&M as we know it will disappear once the world is 100% circular.
Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M reveals how to implement holistic change in times of distrust.
How would I explain what a climate positive value chain1 to my grandmother?
Our value chain goes all the way from the cotton farm to your washing machine. What we mean by climate positive is that we want to reduce more emissions than we are responsible for. Now, that’s the simple answer and you may want to ask ‘how will H&M do it?’ and that’s where it gets complex…
We have 3 priorities; firstly to reduce energy consumption, from consumers to stores and across the entire supply chain, because the best energy is the one never used. Secondly, we need to convert into renewable energy sources across entire value chain and our goal is to make it by 2040.
Now, looking at the infrastructure and policy development, we know that you will not be able to have zero emissions by 2040 so the third priority is resilience, which means to establish ways to capture emissions. We can achieve that by compensation: natural carbon sinks, afforestation and supporting natural conservation, but also technological carbon sinks where you can extract carbon from the air and convert it into new materials.
Circle Economy2, a social enterprise from Amsterdam, estimates that our world right now is 9% circular. Imagine we progress to 50% circular: what would be the first difference you’d notice?
I think the biggest difference would be the new ways of consuming and enjoying products. We will see new ways of designing products cause this is where it all begins; as a designer you set the frame for – what kind of materials and processes will be used, how the customer will use the garment and for how long.
Another big change will be around waste. In Sweden, we throw away 8 kilos of clothes per person every year and that is the biggest irony of our industry. Whilst the world lacks resources we are throwing away fine materials. With a circular system in place we will see much less waste and more resources being brought back into the system to be used in another form.
H&M has launched the Take Care3 pilot in 2019. How are you planning to scale this between today and 2030?
With Take Care we are supporting customers to take better care of their clothes. Because if we look at the predicted population growth and the fact that people will always need clothes in one way or another, it is quite a challenge. We as an industry need to figure out how to make it happen within the planetary boundaries.
I can only think of my grandmother and how she treated clothes; she removed stains, mended and refreshed them to make sure they had a long life. This is the feeling we want to install back into our customers. What they buy is valuable not because it costs a lot, but because there are valuable resources in it and they should take good care of it for as long as possible. We want them to find it easy, fun and tangible to be sustainable and become part of a solution.
And if the fashion system will turn 100% circular – what is going to disappear?
Well, everything that’s bad… You will have no waste, no carbon emissions, no hazardous chemicals, no unsustainable use of land and no unsustainable growth cotton…
There is a lot of new science heading in that direction, but I think it’s going too slow and one of the main reasons for that is that it requires more than the actions of a selected few. You cannot have islands of perfection when the rest of the sea, so to say, is not working. We need to bridge that gap.
What are the challenges of making business completely circular? You touched on a few of them already…
It’s about creating a functional ecosystem of all the different players. You have governments, brands, suppliers, innovators, customers…everyone has a role to play and at the moment they are not always linked to each other, so a broader collaboration and facilitation is needed.
Paul4 said we don’t need more innovation, well, I still think we do, as we don’t have all the solutions yet. We say investors are the last ones to come along and so many small scale entrepreneurs lack capital. That’s why we have a lot of collaboration on a brand level but need more to be happening vertically. You need to find partners in the supply chain that can make this work from A to Z and that requires connections and network, alongside funding.
H&M and it’s sustainability commitments are facing criticism as well as praise. How are you dealing with that?
We have no problem with scrutiny. It is a healthy part of any system to have transparency demanded. If companies like us, would not have been criticised, we would have not pushed the industry to where it is today. We are very confident in what we are driving, and our strategy is not something we have done alone; it is consulted with a range of stakeholders and experts on issues like: wages, circularity or sustainable use of water. We do listen to criticism carefully and take that feedback in to do the right thing.
Another thing is the distrust towards the industry and perception that for something to be sustainable it has to be expensive. Sustainable clothing should not be available for a selected few. We are looking into what the 98% of the population is going to wear and we are looking to provide an affordable answer to sustainable consumption. Because, if sustainable fashion becomes expensive then we have failed and the industry will not survive.
4) Paul Polman speech at the CFS 2019 here: https://vimeo.com/337508030