Water

Life on earth relies on water and so does our industry. Yet water scarcity and quality are critical global issues. We are committed to reducing our impact and working together to manage water better.

Around the world, 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress and 80% of wastewater flows back into ecosystems without being treated. Climate change worsens the already fragile water situation by increasing the likelihood of water-related disruptions such as floods, droughts and changing rainfall patterns. And in early 2022, the freshwater planetary boundary was crossed, risking further environmental change. 

The fashion industry is one of the biggest users of water, from the production of raw materials to washing and dyeing fabrics. Therefore, we have a responsibility to conserve, reuse and recycle water where possible and to minimise pollution to keep water clean for future generations.

A decade of action

Back in 2012, we started mapping our supply chain’s impact on water, which meant we could identify and prioritise actions to reduce our impact. 

Initially, we focused on reducing water consumption and pollution in our supply chain.  A few years later, we adopted water stewardship* and began working with other stakeholders and brands around the basins where we operate. More recently, we’ve added contextual targets** that address the individual challenges each supplier faces with support from WWF.

Alongside these initiatives, we’ve also taken steps to improve our products’ impact on water, from the design stage right through to reuse and recycling.

Children collecting water in India. India is an important production country for H&M Group. © WWF / Simon Rawles

Our new strategy

We’ve focused on becoming more water efficient and improving water in some of the world’s most stressed water basins but the freshwater clock is ticking, so now it’s time to take a fresh approach and broaden our impact. 

Our vision is to have a positive impact on water by 2030. We want to build a business that is resilient to water crises and catalyse innovation to enable the fashion industry to decouple from water.

Five focus areas

Circularity
Across our business we are working to become more circular, so fashion never becomes waste. This includes our approach to water. We will continue to work towards our contextual targets**, addressing water issues on a local level as well as engaging in water stewardship* with partners and stakeholders.

Leadership
We will use our size and scale to lead our industry to a more sustainable fashion future. To inspire our peers, we will share benchmarks, establish a cost for water that is integrated into all our sourcing decisions and create internal targets to incentivise better water performance.

Investment
Currently, we don’t have all the solutions. So, we will invest in and scale up innovations such as zero/less water processes, new recycled materials and regenerative landscape projects. We will also support our supply chain to adopt water saving practices and technology. And, of course, we will share what we learn with the industry.

Change mindsets
To achieve our aims, we need to ensure our organisation understands and values water better. To facilitate this shift in mindsets, we will visualise and create measurements for water use and impact when we design our clothes, for example.

Ecosystem innovation
Stakeholders and partners need to unite to accelerate action on water issues. To enable this collaboration, we are committed to disclose our water related actions, our dependencies and our performance.

Chittagong in Bangladesh, where H&M Group has several suppliers, vanishes under the rising sea level. © Jashim Salam / WWF-UK

WWF partnership

We have worked with WWF for many years and water has been a focus of our collaboration since the beginning. To share our learnings from the partnership, we have co-published two guides to help other companies on a similar journey: Contextual Water Targets and Putting Water Strategy into Context

Find out more about our joint achievements here.

Our projects

Circular fashion
We are working with our partners to trial ideas to shift to a more circular fashion industry through water treatment in India. Pilot projects include bio electrochemical treatment of wastewater to reduce sludge and energy consumption, while generating electricity at the same time.

Water stewardship*
In Bangladesh, one of our key production countries, we are working with the Alliance for Stewardship, supplier factories, other clothing brands and local communities to improve water management on a basin level in three clusters – Gazipur, Narayanganj and Savar.

Zero wastewater
As part of our commitment to WBCSD, we are collaborating with other businesses to reduce wastewater pollution. This will help improve biodiversity, enhance water security, enable us to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

WASH
Working with WaterAid, we are exploring how to implement an indicator that will help to ensure people working in our supply chain and nearby communities have access to sufficient, affordable and climate resilient WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene).

A connected system

Water, our natural world and the systems that support life on earth are interconnected and this is reflected in our business.

Our work around water, biodiversity, climate, chemicals, materials and circularity are linked. What we do in one area will benefit another and that’s why we have developed our sustainability strategies to complement each other. This way we can bring about greater impact.

A fisherman cleans his boat on the border between Laos and Cambodia. © Thomas Cristofoletti / WWF-US

Some key terms

*Water stewardship
Working to improve water in our suppliers will have a limited impact. Water stewardship allows us to manage water on a bigger scale that considers all users within a basin or catchment area. This includes local communities, business, agriculture and biodiversity.

**Contextual targets
Instead of setting general targets that cover all suppliers, contextual targets allow us to respond better to the individual water challenges of each of our 1,100 suppliers. Our contextual targets address water scarcity, water quality, governance, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), flooding and climate induced events.

Water roadmap 2018-2022

Until the end of 2022, we will continue working with our existing strategy. Our Water Roadmap sets out the goals and the actions we need to take to deliver the strategy. Our tools and activities include:

  • Water-management requirements for suppliers, covering legal compliance plus a set of minimum and aspirational requirements for water use and quality.
  • Water Risk assessment, using WWF’s water-risk filter.
  • Cleaner-production program implemented in our value chain together with external partners such as WaterPaCT/IFC, Sweden Textile Water Initiative (STWI).
  • Wastewater recycling solutions piloted and implemented in textile production processes.​​

Our industry is complex, which means collaboration is central to our efforts to manage water in a sustainable way. Our partnership with WWF began in 2011 and includes water as a key focus. 

To encourage industry-wide progress on water use and quality, we work with and align our performance reporting with groups such as Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC).

Water stewardship

We’ve been working to reduce our water impact across each part of our value chain for more than a decade, paying attention to both global and local impact and context.

Our water stewardship strategy focuses on water awareness and efficiency throughout our value chain, impact measurement, and stakeholder engagement — including working with policy makers to advocate for sustainable management at local (basin) level. 

1. Water awareness

Building water awareness at our company, our suppliers’ factories and amongst our customers to ensure a high level understanding of the global water challenges and their dependence on fresh water.

2. Knowledge of impact

Measuring water impact and risk within our stores, warehouses and supplier factories.

3. Internal action

Improving the use of water within our stores, warehouses and suppliers’ factories.

4. Stakeholder engagement

Increased focus on collective action with other companies, governments and NGOs in multi-stakeholder platforms to address water issues in specific focus areas.

5. Influence governance

Increased focus on government influence by engaging with public policymakers to manage water basins in a sustainable way.

Top image credit: A view of sand banks in Stung Treng, Cambodia.
© Thomas Cristofoletti / WWF-US

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