Karl-Johan Persson's words on sustainability

When H&M Group launched the sustainability report in 2018, Karl-Johan Persson shared his view on sustainable fashion and design.

A little more than 70 years ago, my grandfather opened a shop selling women’s apparel in the small Swedish town of Västerås. He believed that everyone should have the opportunity to express their personality through fashion and he saw it as his mission to democratise fashion and make it available to all rather than the privileged few. The concept of “Fashion for everyone, at a great price”, has remained with our company ever since. In the same way that we took the lead 70 years ago by making fashion accessible to all, we now want to take the lead in ensuring a more sustainable fashion industry by tackling some of the most significant challenges that are facing our planet and society.

We are part of an industry which undoubtedly faces significant challenges when it comes to environmental and social sustainability — but I want H&M Group to continue to be a positive force towards resolving these shared challenges. We know that we are a large company and we, therefore, know that we have an equally large responsibility to ensure that we have a positive impact on our planet. As such I am proud to say that our sustainability work is embedded in our culture and our values. A long-term approach is a natural and important part of our overall business strategy. We also believe that taking a long-term view is crucial when it comes to dealing with complex sustainability issues.

"I’m convinced that technical innovations will be the solution to many of the environmental challenges the textile industry is facing"

According to the UN, climate change and poverty are two of the most significant challenges of our time and will affect many generations to come. While I have a great deal of respect for the vast complexity of both of these challenges, I also strongly believe that we can make a positive contribution towards facing them. We will continue to take a long-term approach to achieve sustainable production, while at the same time creating good jobs and driving prosperity in the markets in which we operate.

In order for our company to take on these challenges in an effective way, I believe that sustainability must be considered as an integral part of our business rather than being treated as an after-thought. For this reason, we work to ensure that sustainability is integrated into all aspects of our business - it should pervade everything that we do, all the decisions we make and the everyday work of all our employees'.
Taking this approach makes it possible for all of us to work towards the same goal. For this reason, all functions within H&M Group are assessed on the basis of sustainability objectives, which are just as important as any other benchmark.

However, it is not possible to achieve great change in isolation. We have over 70 years of experience, but we are entirely dependent on our partnerships with experts from other fields to really drive our sustainability work forward. We therefore fully support the development of the new technology and innovation that is required to create a circular fashion industry.

Encouragement of and collaboration with other forces for positive change is especially important when it comes to the complex challenges faced by the fashion industry, and indeed all other industries. Just a few examples of our collaborations include: our work with WWF on the responsible use of water in our value chain, our investment in innovations companies that are developing technologies for textile recycling, and our close partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that is helping drive the development of a circular economy as well as our work with the UN and textile workers’ global trade union who are advising us about the best way to tackle the huge issue of wages in the textile industry.

The values of H&M Group also include a constant willingness to innovate and look at things in new ways. Today, we are using AI to make it easier for us to ensure a good match between production and demand, thus saving energy, transport and resources. We are switching to renewable electricity and streamlining our use of energy. With the help of innovation, we are not only able to find new sustainable materials and recover textile fibres in a better way than before, but we can also make this scalable in the long term. I am impressed every year by the winners of the Global Change Award challenge for innovation, which was founded by H&M Foundation – it presents solid proof that a circular fashion industry is possible. The transformation of orange peel and algae into fabric and grape residue into plant-based leather, are just a few of the great ideas that have been realised.

I’m convinced that technical innovations will be the solution to many of the environmental challenges the textile industry is facing and will contribute to more sustainable consumption. The reality is that as our population grows, so does also consumption, which already today goes beyond what the planet can afford. The key to our future is, therefore, to ensure that we move away from an old, linear and environmentally hazardous system to a circular one that ensures long-term environmental and social sustainability. Big leaps towards new and greener solutions are usually taken by companies and countries that are developing and can, therefore, invest in technological innovations. As such consumption that contributes to both reducing global poverty and enabling investment in modern, sustainable production is not the problem, but instead part of the solution.

This report is our opportunity to share an honest and transparent account of the positive steps that we have taken so far as well as the complex challenges we continue to face. It helps us understand both the areas in which we have made progress and those that we need to re-think and further develop. While I am proud of our achievements, I am aware that there is still a lot more for us to do. However, I remain convinced that our long-term approach coupled with our genuine determination, will help us lead the way to create a more sustainable fashion industry.

Karl-Johan Persson


H&M Group uses cookies to give you the best experience on our website. If you continue to use our services, we'll assume that you're happy with this. Find out more about cookies.