"Create internal alignment and
know your supply chain"

Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M) is a front-runner when it comes to sourcing sustainable cotton. At the moment H&M uses Better Cotton, Organic Cotton and recycled cotton, for a total of 43% of all their cotton use. Their ultimate goal is to source 100% sustainable by 2020.

Taking responsibility for future production

H&M is one of the biggest cotton users in the world and cotton is the most commonly used fiber in H&M clothes. "That’s why we feel the responsibility to operate in a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable way when it comes to cotton", Harsha Vardhan, Global Environment Manager at H&M (Production), explains. "Another big challenge is to make sure there will be enough cotton for our products in the future. By sourcing sustainable cotton we stimulate sustainable practices on the ground, which will increase production."

Public targets are drivers for change

H&M is one of the companies that dares to communicate their target of 100% sustainable sourcing by 2020 externally. Harsha: "We see that an external target is an important driver. When you don’t publicly disclose such a target, it’s almost like not having a target at all." Harsha also hopes that H&M, as a front-runner in using sustainable cotton, has a strong impact on other brands. "We see that setting a public target persuades other brands to do the same. This is important, the whole industry should become more ambitious when it comes to sustainable sourcing. In this way we are all prepared for the future."

The journey can be challenging

Harsha admits that the journey towards a sustainable cotton supply chain can sometimes be challenging. "The first two years of sourcing Better Cotton we didn’t meet our targets, as our suppliers and market conditions were not ready to work without a premium. It required patience and perseverance, but now suppliers understand that this is the future of apparel business and they will also benefit from being part of this journey. Sometimes it is fine not to meet short-term targets, in order to fulfil long-term vision. This was a very big learning for us."

Sometimes it is fine not to meet short-term targets, in order to fulfil long-term vision.
Harsha Vardhan Global Environment Manager at H&M

Find your own answers

Since H&M works with sustainable cotton, the company has learned a lot. Harsha has some valuable tips for brands that also want to take the plunge. "First of all: make sure there’s internal alignment for working with sustainable cotton. This requires a lot of communication and internal marketing. You also need CEO level commitment, time-bound goals and KPIs on sustainability at every level of the company.

Secondly, know your supply chain to the core. Put a lot of effort into understanding it and mapping it down. And last but not least: go on your own journey. Other’s experiences won’t necessarily help you, you have to find your own answers." According to Harsha, the beginning of this journey will definitely have a 'freak out phase'. "Every company will go through such a phase. But don’t give up if things get difficult. Believe me: it will become easier."

The advice of H&M in summary

  • Make your target for sustainable cotton public to show you’re serious and convince other brands to do the same.
  • Don’t compromise for short-term wins but build a stable base for the long run.
  • Make sure there’s internal alignment for working with sustainable cotton.
  • Go on your own journey: every company is different, you have to find your own answers.
  • Overcome the initial freak out phase, never give up!

Do you want to know more about H&M's sustainable cotton sourcing? Harsha is willing to answer your questions.

Contact Harsha Vardhan
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