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“2020 was a huge milestone in our transparency work”

Transparency played a key role in driving H&M Group’s sustainability efforts forward during 2020. But what is transparency really about and what initiatives has the group been driving to push the boundaries?
Giorgina Waltier, Transparency Strategy & Engagement Lead at H&M Group, shares her thoughts on customer empowerment and why exposing sustainability impacts on a pair of jeans can drive real change.

Giorgina Waltier, Transparency Strategy & Engagement Lead at H&M Group.

Hi Giorgina Waltier! Transparency has been a buzzword when it comes to sustainability for some time now, but what does it really mean?

“To me personally, transparency is about honesty and clarity. It means taking responsibility for our work and our impact on the planet and people. More specifically, for H&M Group, transparency means sharing accountable, accurate sustainability information relating to our products, supply chain, business practices and policies to customers and stakeholders”.

What could access to informative and transparent data result in?

“By sharing information about how a product has been produced – and what environmental and social impacts it has had – we believe we can empower customers to make more informed decisions when they want to make a purchase from any of our brands. According to new research, 55% of shoppers say sustainability is more important to them than value or quality – but how can customers identify sustainable products and trust that they are as sustainable as they claim to be? We believe that product transparency is the solution”.

55% of shoppers say sustainability is more important to them than value or quality – but how can customers identify sustainable products and trust that they are as sustainable as they claim to be?

What can transparent product information look like?

“Across all our brands we make sure that products that include more sustainable materials are clearly labelled on hangtags, so they are easily identifiable. We also make this information available online on the product description pages whenever possible”.

“But we want to push our product transparency much further by providing information about for example, the carbon, water and energy footprint of, say, a pair of jeans – or providing the data about the environmental impacts of the factory that has made those jeans. This is the kind of data that we are working to share with the customer on a product level, but we need to take this step by step, as connecting all the dots is incredibly complex”.

Product transparency – showing environmental impact for a pair of jeans on hm.com

Did H&M Group take any important steps during 2020?

“We were of course very happy and proud that our work with transparency got recognition, when we were ranked as number one in the Fashion Transparency Index 2020. But we still have a lot of work to do and our efforts to improve our level of transparency continue. The H&M brand was, for example, part of a product transparency pilot with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Higg Index last year that gave us really important insights about how we can share impact data on our products and how the customer reacts to this”.

“Many of our other brands also succeeded in taking transparency to the next level during 2020. COS conducted a blockchain traceability pilot on a selection of products and ARKET launched their Sustainability Fact Sheet which shares the details of all ARKET suppliers with the customer online”.

What were the other important milestones last year?

“Another huge 2020 milestone was the development of a denim collection that sought to share environmental impact data with the customer. The result of this work, the Lee x H&M Collection, was launched at the end of January 2021”.

“While working with this collection, sustainability representatives from the company like myself as well as our CEO Helena Helmersson, met virtually with fashion influencers to hear their thoughts on sustainability and hopes for the future. Their input on sustainable fashion was extremely valuable and really taught us a lot! This kind of interaction with our customers is also a way for us to be more transparent”.

Transparent talking: Giorgina Waltiers in a conversation with model Deba Hekmat.

You mentioned showing environmental impact data – tell us more!

“It was the first time that we applied a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to a collection and shared the findings with our customers on products. By running an LCA we were able to show the customer some of the potential environmental impact reductions that can be created by using more sustainable materials. These impacts included CO2 equivalent emissions, water use and energy use. Using and sharing LCA data in this way has enabled us to take our product transparency to a totally new level and we are currently exploring how we can apply similar data to more collections across our brands”.

Last but not least – what does the future hold?

“There are a lot of exciting new developments around the corner. As data processing solutions and tech improvements continue, transparency will take on a whole new life in the next few years. The fashion industry will probably move away from sharing information on static web pages, to fully digital wardrobes, where transparency becomes part of your everyday interaction with both the clothes in your closet and the clothes you are looking to buy, sell, share, swap or recycle. The future of transparency is very exciting”!