How can a global company like H&M Group work to measure and reduce its impact on biodiversity? And what challenges come with scaling up solutions?
From working with WWF India to supporting the work of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), H&M Group’s approach is rooted in collaborative partnerships that ensure measurable progress.
Textile Exchange spoke to Jennie Granström, Business Expert – Biodiversity, to understand more about how the company is developing its biodiversity ambitions and the transferrable learnings it has uncovered along the way.
Textile Exchange: How did H&M Group start to address its impact on biodiversity?
Jennie: As we listened to science and deepened our understanding of our planetary boundaries, it became clear that our existing strategy towards being Circular and Climate Positive just did not cover the full extent of our biodiversity needs.
Understanding the urgency to act, we first carried out a biodiversity footprint assessment. We are now doing an inventory of how biodiversity plays into the goals we already have, with the aim to either strengthen those goals or set new ones. Through this process, we have seen how biodiversity needs bring an additional “why” and extra urgency to our existing goals. We are also working with the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) on developing aligned science-based targets (SBTs) for nature.
Textile Exchange: What are the focus areas in H&M Group’s biodiversity ambitions?
Jennie: We are working on four key areas: decreasing the biodiversity impact of our own value chain, collaborating with other organizations and brands, running projects with high biodiversity impact and prioritizing leadership, advocacy and awareness raising.
In the coming years we will continue to work on our assessment and set our goals. Taking measurable actions and balanced decisions are two key priorities for us, which is why we are supporting science through the work of IPBES.
However, I believe that if we are to come closer to understanding our biodiversity impact and being able to use our own primary data instead of relying on secondary sources, we need to improve traceability within our supply chain and better understand the landscapes within which our suppliers operate. This is a huge focus for us.
Textile Exchange: What are some highlights from your work in biodiversity so far?
Jennie: We kicked off our Regenerative Ecologically and Economically Viable Agriculture (REEVA) project in Central India together with WWF. This project just started in mid-2021 and the first year will be a small pilot with 150 farmers, but the plan is to scale this up over the next four years.
We have been investigating a number of other possible projects and initiatives to implement within our value chain, related to sourcing raw materials with less impact on biodiversity, implementing regenerative practices and targeting specific local needs through more local enhancement projects.
Because biodiversity is a local context specific issue, we strive to work with partners that understand their own production areas. This can be time-consuming, but we believe it is essential to achieve a balanced approach between social, climate, economic and biodiversity concerns. We are currently engaged in conversations with a producer association, academics and conservation organizations to identify how we can support enhancements for our value chain.
Textile Exchange: Can you tell us some more about the REEVA project? How does it work to protect threatened species and their habitats?
Jennie: We are working in the Satpuda-Pench wildlife corridor between two protected areas in central India to support smallholder cotton farmers to adopt regenerative farming practices and to access markets for regenerative cotton.
The small-scale, diverse agriculture practiced in the region provides an opportunity for the co-existence of farmers and forests. The agricultural fields, interspersed with forest areas, form ecologically viable corridors that can be used by tigers and other wildlife to move from one forest area to another. This is vital for dispersal, reducing human-wildlife conflict and maintaining the genetic viability of wild populations.
However, small-scale commercial farmers are increasingly selling or converting their land to other uses. These farmers are often stuck in a vicious cycle of low incomes, limited resources to purchase productivity-enhancing technologies and small marketable surplus.
By helping farmers adopt regenerative practices, the project aims to directly improve biodiversity in the soil and in pollinator species while helping smallholder farmers to achieve better incomes and build their resilience. This will in turn help secure the agriculture-forest mosaic landscape that is critical for the movement of larger species like tigers, and biodiversity overall in the wider landscape.
Textile Exchange: What do you think are the biggest challenges for a brand in creating positive outcomes for biodiversity?
Jennie: One big challenge for brands like ours is finding ways to enable improvements at scale, and not just through smaller impact projects. While there is an increasing market for sustainably sourced raw materials, there are many cases in which there is still not enough volume of these materials being produced to make them a viable option for our supply chain. As a fashion company, we need to enable this transition by increasing the demand for regenerative and traceable raw materials.
We also need to show our interest by making investments in the transitional stages, understanding the main challenges with the changes we are asking for and helping to overcome them. We are now investing in in-conversion cotton, for example, since the supply from the transition over to organic cotton does not yet meet the requirements for organic certification.
Relatedly, we also face challenges around the processes for recycling materials and the quality of recycled fibers. More research and development is needed for solutions that are scalable.
Textile Exchange: How can we achieve greater impact for biodiversity by working together?
Jennie: As we neither own the fields that the material for our products is grown on, nor the factories in which our products are produced, we need to collaborate with our raw material producers and other suppliers to ensure that what we are asking for is the right thing in their context, and that it is possible to implement.
The same applies for biodiversity improvement initiatives; we need partners that run high quality projects for us to tap into.
I also believe that as an industry, we need governmental regulations that ensure that our investments in sustainability efforts do not push the problem elsewhere. We need alignment with other industry actors on a joint set of science-based requirements, as well as standards and certifications that work locally. And lastly, we need a joint way of reporting what is being done within the field of biodiversity so that progress can be measured, evaluated and compared, which is where Textile Exchange’s Biodiversity Benchmark comes in.