An astonishing 75% of all land on earth has been significantly altered by human activities such as agriculture, which is a major cause of biodiversity loss. During 2020, H&M Group took important steps to reduce its own negative impact on biodiversity through, for example, helping farmers improve biodiversity by switching to responsible rattan and organic cotton.
By the end of 2020, 100% of H&M Group’s cotton was either organic, recycled or sourced in a more sustainable way. This is thanks to a number of efforts in recent years, including a partnership with the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) to help farmers in India shift to growing organic cotton. Organic cotton is produced using ecological processes and without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or genetically modified seeds.
This helps maintain local biodiversity. Organic cotton farms also use much less water than conventional cotton farms as they mainly rely on rainwater, says Suhas Khandagale, responsible for H&M Group’s Global cotton production. “Overall, it’s a way of farming that focuses on preserving soil health and caring for the farmer’s family, community and planet,” he says.
It’s a way of farming that focuses on preserving soil health and caring for the farmer’s family, community and planet.
The principal programme with OCA, the Farmer Engagement and Development (FED) programme, is aimed at building sustainable and reliable organic cotton by demonstrating the business case for farmers to grow it. FED also improves transparency and risk management for brands and retailers through, for example, conducting random audits and quality checks.
“With our 100% transparent supply chain we are able to establish complete traceability from farm to fashion, for all the products that are produced using the cotton from these farm projects,” says Suhas Khandagale.
By participating in projects with the Organic Cotton Accelerator and other organic cotton initiatives in India during the 2019-2020 crop season, H&M Group’s support resulted in 13,000 farmers involved in organic cotton projects. This is a dramatic increase from 1,300 farmers in 2017.
“All partners who manage these projects have continued to engage with us on capacity building and scaling up on volumes each year,” says Suhas Khandagale. “That demonstrates the commitment from everyone towards the future of the organic cotton sector.”
Man-made cellulosic fibres, or MMC, are the third biggest materials sourced by H&M Group. Hence, it’s important that no ancient and endangered forests are put at risk in the name of fashion and design. Through a collaboration with WWF, H&M Group is encouraging farmers and suppliers to produce and market responsible rattan – the collective noun for roughly 600 species of climbing trees.
Belonging to the palm family, rattan is used to make furniture, handicrafts and other goods. Over the years, many communities have been converting their rattan fields into more lucrative crops like bananas or rubber or sold their fields for mining, putting biodiversity at risk.
In Indonesia however, the Katingan Rattan Farmers Association representing more than 200 rattan farmers, is practicing responsible rattan management in its local area in Central Kalimantan. This is an area that has been identified as a High Conservation Value forest and it’s a place where orangutans, birds and other wildlife flourish. The farmers participate in maintaining and preserving the forest. This in turn ensures the survival of rattan, which relies on forests for growth.
“Responsible rattan farming ensures that rattan is harvested in a sustainable manner and harvested legally,” says Anya Sapphira, Regional Sustainability Manager, H&M Group Production Office Indonesia. “It is also a way to safeguard the ecosystem processes, species and human livelihoods. By providing a source of income to rural people, it allows them to become stewards and guards of their forests and biodiversity.”
By providing a source of income to rural people, it allows them to become stewards and guards of their forests and biodiversity.
The Katingan Rattan Farmers Association is among the first non-timber forest product groups to receive FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) forest management certification. A total of 690.58 hectares have been certified since 2018. “H&M Group joined forces with WWF at the beginning of 2019 to do what we are best at – building a sustainable business case,” says Heidi Paramita Madiadipura, H&M Home Production Manager.
“Our focus is to strengthen the material quality level to meet customer demand and create a sustainable value chain. We work with business partners or suppliers who share the same values and commitments to positive environmental and social impacts.”
A new innovation in recycling may help protect harvests. Non-profit H&M Foundation, its research partner HKRITA and one of India’s largest apparel manufacturer Shahi ran a pilot project in 2020 to test a super absorbent powder in cotton farming.
The results showed that the powder was able to keep the soil moist, reducing the need for irrigation and saving water for local communities. In addition, the quality of the cotton was improved with longer and stronger fibres and harvests increased by 20%. This implies that cotton farmers could ask a higher price for their cotton and thus increase their income. The pilot will scale up in 2021 with further trials on a larger area of land.