Recently, interest in the circular economy is getting popular. The circular economy is not a linear economy in which resources are lost, but a closed loop economy. It is an economic structure that recycles waste to reduce resource consumption and minimize environmental pollution. In developed countries, companies that actively challenge the realization of the circular economy are appearing one after another. The Swedish clothing company H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) Group, founded in 1947, is one of them.
H&M brand logo Source: H&M
Led by Karl-Johan Persson, the third-largest descendant of H&M's founder, H&M makes sustainability a key strategy for corporate management. Specifically, the company aims to ensure that all employees, partners, and customers are aware of environmental issues, and makes effort to use 100% circular management in all 4 aspects of Design, Materials, Production Process, and Use
First of all, 'circular design innovation' is centered on designers who are aware of environmental issues and who purchase only raw materials. Some say that the price is cheap, but the goal is to transform 'Fast Fashion' into 'Sustainable Fashion,' which also has a negative rating that causes environmental problems because the clothes are thrown away after only one season.
These changes are made in all areas of the product and the store. One example is the 2016 Closed Loop apparel collection produced by minimizing water and chemical use, land, and natural ecosystem damage. In addition, the company is introducing circular design innovations for sales products such as the 'Conscious Beauty Line' for skin, hair, and body products launched in 2016, and recycling 80% of H&M store interiors by 2025. It is also innovating the store interior design with the goal of making the stores eco-friendly as well.
The second is 'Materials Innovation,' which uses old clothing, textile waste, and PET bottle wastes as raw materials. To this end, H&M is willing to invest in research and development investment and support for fiber recycling technology. The company aims to use 100% recycled or sustainable sourced materials throughout the H&M brand by 2030.
In 2016 alone, the polyester needed to make 180 million plastic PET bottles was sourced from recycled materials, making it the second-largest recycled polyester company in the world after Nike. Starting in 2012, the Conscious Exclusive Women's Collection, made from new organic and recycled fabrics, will be released in 2016 along with menswear in the coming years.
(2016 H&M Conscious Exclusive Collection Powder Pink Plissé Dress, Made of Recycled Polyester BIONIC®, Recovered from Coastal Waste) Source: H&M
Third, H&M will work together to raise environmental partners' awareness of environmental issues through sustainable production process innovation. H&M does not directly produce, but outsources products from more than 900 partners in Europe and Asia. In short, no matter how hard H&M's efforts, if all of these partners raise environmental issues, all efforts will go to waste. As a result, the goal of zeroing hazardous chemical waste in the production process of H&M Group brand products by 2020 is more challenging. However, through thorough management such as training in China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Turkey, 82% of suppliers met the legal wastewater treatment requirements in the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) assessment. NGO Greenpeace's Toxic Free 2020 evaluation is also being conducted, including the evaluation of outstanding companies.
(Greenpeace Toxic Free 2020 Campaign) Source: Greenpeace Toxic Free 2020 Campaign
Lastly, the most difficult area is 'product life cycle innovation.' Business to customer (B2C) consumer goods companies such as H&M cannot fully contribute to the circular economy without the help of product consumers. Therefore, efforts to raise environmental awareness to customers are key.
First, GINETEX's "Clever Care Label," a sustainable textile management tip for long-lasting clothes, is now included in all apparel products. It is extremely common to wash at low temperatures or to dry naturally without using the washing machine dehydration function or to wash, iron, or dry only when it is necessary. However, raising environmental awareness is important because environmental problems are caused by not doing common sense.
Next, the company collects unused clothes from customers, and collects non-H&M brands to represent responsible companies. The activity, which began worldwide in 2013, has so far collected about 55,000 tons of clothing, equivalent to 270 million T-shirts.
Recycled clothing and textiles are recycled and upcycled to launch denim-style women's, men's and children's clothing products and collections since 2015. Finally, with the waste and recycling of H&M stores, the goal is to have a waste recycling system in 100% of all stores by 2020. The H&M brand has 4,293 stores worldwide as of February 2018, with 71% of the stores currently achieving their goals.
(H&M clothing collection box) Source: H&M
It is impossible to recycle the earth. To protect the one and only planet, we need to change the perception of the environment of all headquarters, R&D, design, procurement, partners, and customers from unconscious into conscious. To save the planet, I just hope that more companies like H&M will realize 360-degree circular management in all value chains and supply chains.