From the way that consumers shop, to the way that brands produce and distribute their apparel, the fashion industry has completely changed over the past decade. The digital age, along with the millennial consumers’ obsession with fast fashion, are both responsible for the complete revolution of the industry. While there have been a number of positive outcomes from these changes, (convenience to consumers and the success of retail stores such as Zara and H&M), the rise in the popularity of fast fashion has also had an extremely damaging effect on the environment. Last December, FORBES released an article that stated “The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil.” As the damaging impact of fast fashion becomes more well-known, fashion companies are becoming more accountable for the output of their supply chains. Popular fast fashion chain, H&M, has emerged as a leader in the fashion industry when it comes to addressing and reducing its carbon footprint on the planet.
H&M Goes Green
H&M has taken a number of steps to combat the destructive practices of fashion supply chains. I will acknowledge, that as a person who has loved consuming fashion for as long as I can remember- through media, retailers, and even through my work- “sustainable” is not the adjective that would naturally come to mind when thinking about a desirable fashion brand. However, H&M has successfully done sustainable fashion. By addressing the role that its operational processes have played in the proliferation of climate change, H&M has made a conscious effort to reduce its amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Where H&M has been the most successful in achieving this reduction, is in its use of renewable electricity. In 2015, 78% of the electricity used in the retail giant’s stores, offices and warehouses, came from renewable sources, ultimately resulting in CO2 emissions dropping by 56%.
The Issue with Manufacturing
The real challenge for H&M comes, however, in resolving the emissions issue as it pertains to its actual production processes. Like so many other retailers, H&M relies heavily on third-party manufacturers, leaving little control to H&M for sustainability decisions.
Partnering with Solidaridad, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Through these organizations, H&M has been able to implement cleaner production programs that encourage its manufacturers to set emission reduction targets via an incentives program. Additionally, H&M has dramatically improved its transportation practices so that the most efficient modes of transportation are utilized throughout the supply chain.
The Value of Sustainability
The high importance to which H&M holds climate change in its corporate practices can be seen implemented through its strategies from supply chain, up to its accounting department. In 2014, H&M started reporting its climate related corporate performance to investors through the Climate Change Reporting Framework. Although this framework was not required by regulation, H&M believed that investors should take into consideration the company’s strategy of managing climate change in order to determine its appropriate value. H&M recognized that the industry’s dependence on raw materials could prove troublesome for the future, considering the rate that climate change was making these materials harder and more expensive to acquire. H&M’s move to report its climate related corporate performance, is just another illustration of its view that its sustainable strategies, including that of acquiring sustainably sourced materials and using raw materials that do not contribute to deforestation, will be a future competitive advantage.
The Power of the Consumer
While the fashion industry has, for many years, been overlooked in the discussion of climate change, the fact of the matter is that every stage of a traditional apparel product’s life cycle – from sourcing the raw materials to its end use – has an impact on our planet. H&M’s relatively new sustainability processes are just the tip of the iceberg in delivering results that can make a real difference in our climate. In the $3 trillion fashion industry, the opportunity for change is immense. I would argue that H&M could double down on its education to consumers. While the corporation’s internal practices greatly impact the environment, H&M believes that 26% of the greenhouse gas emissions in a garment’s life cycle happens after the product is sold to the end consumer (the disposal of the clothes, as well as the maintenance of the clothes). In order to really move the needle in the reduction of greenhouse gases, customers need to play a more significant role. As customers continue to learn about the impact of fashion on the environment, they will increasingly demand more sustainable practices from their retailers. Additionally, they will be educated to do their part in protecting the environment through deliberate maintenance and recycling of their garments. (775)
James Conca, Making Climate Change Fashionable – The Garment Industry Takes on Global Warming, FORBES, 3 Dec. 2015,
H&M, H&M ACHIEVES POSITION OF LEADERSHIP FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION, (2013),
H&M Conscious Actions Sustainability Report 2015 http://about.hm.com/content/dam/hmgroup/groupsite/documents/en/CSR/reports/2015%20Sustainability%20report/HM_SustainabilityReport_2015_final_FullReport_en.pdf
H&M Conscious Actions Sustainability Report 2015
H&M Conscious Actions Sustainability Report 2015
Mike Hower, H&M, Unilever Commit to Climate Change Disclosure as Matter of Fiduciary Duty, 30 Sep, 2014,
H&M, Sustainably Sourced Materials,
Tensie Whelan and Carly Fink, The Comprehensive Business Case for Sustainability, Harvard Business Review, 21 Oct, 2016,