So Just How Sustainable Is H&M? Company Is First Fashion Retailer to Release Factory Names

Beyoncé was obviously today's biggest H&M news. But on a more serious note, the company also just released its annual sustainability report.
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Beyoncé was obviously today's biggest H&M news. But on a more serious note, the company also just released its annual sustainability report.

H&M is definitely breaking the mold when it comes to mass retailers and the transparency of their manufacturing practices. For years, the high street staple has boasted about its use of organic cotton and "sustainable" Conscious line, which even includes a red carpet-ready partywear collection. It also recently launched a recycling initiative. Of course, words like "sustainable," "ethical," and "organic" are easy to throw around without really explaining what they mean--and H&M in particular has been called into question in the past.

However, its 11th annual sustainability report seems to be its most informative, transparent one yet. For one, it's become the first fashion retailer ever to disclose its entire supplier factory list. Helena Helmersson, H&M’s global head of sustainability, told WWD it hadn't done this before because it was "worried about the competition" trying to use its factories. The company also revealed more details about the sustainability of its manufacturing processes and use of eco-friendly materials. Here are the most interesting things we learned both from H&M's report and WWD, covering both sustainability and ethics:

• For the second year in a row, H&M is the biggest user of "certified organic cotton" in the world. 11.4% of the cotton came from more sustainable sources (7.8% certified organic cotton, 3.6% Better Cotton, which is cotton produced by farmers who are trained in more sustainable farming practices). It plans to use 100% organic cotton by 2020.

• 450 million liters of water were saved in the production of denim and other water-intense products by applying water-saving production techniques.

• "74% of our managers and 50% of the board members are women" is a stat included in the report, even though we're not sure what it has to do with sustainability.

• 570,821 garment workers in Bangladesh (where working conditions are famously bad) "received training on their rights" since 2008, using short films.

• H&M works with 785 suppliers: 340 in the Far East, 242 in South Asia, and 203 in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

• A total of 1,798 factories manufacture goods for H&M. About 760 are in the Far East, 499 in South Asia, and 539 in EMEA.

• H&M has 148 strategic partners, which are "manufacturers committed to the retailer’s sustainability program and have the best record," according to WWD.

• H&M admits to being aware of poor working conditions in the countries in which it has factories, like Bangladesh, where it sources more apparel than any other retailer. Helmersson told WWD, "I’ve never seen a company actually leave a country. When you leave a country it’s really not good for the country and the workers.”

• In 2012, H&M conducted 2,646 supplier factory audits and 9,815 worker interviews.

• CO2 emissions were reduced by 5% relative to sales in 2012. New target set to reduce absolute emissions by 2015, despite continued growth.

• The company plans to source 100% of electricity from renewables.

• It will continue working towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals, with several more fashion brands now joining it in this challenge.

H&M hopes its move will inspire other apparel companies to become more transparent, and so do we.