ANNA GEDDA, HEAD OF SUSTAINABILITY AT H&M, SAYS THE TERM ISN’T JUST A CATCHPHRASE BUT A CALL-TO-ACTION FOR THE INDUSTRY AT LARGE
IS H&M BEING SUCH A BIG COMPANY A CHALLENGE YOU’VE HAD TO FACE IN IMPLEMENTING CHANGE? It’s a double-edged sword. It’s a massive organisation, so if you want to try something like sustainability it’s important you have a clear direction that guides people in making decisions. I also think it’s a huge opportunity. [H&M Conscious Exclusive] is a great example – even though this is a small capsule collection, once we actually get those materials up and running and we take them to scale in regular collections, that has a huge impact on the supply chain and the environmental effects. If you use a recycled material compared to a conventional one, you save between 70 and 90 per cent in carbon emissions. Looking at the amount of material we use, those are huge savings.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER BARRIERS TO CHANGE?
There are different barriers. The social side is [where] we are dependent on so many others. If you want to address the issue around wages, for example, you can’t just address it with us. All the suppliers work with other brands as well, so you need to work with those brands, with the government and with the trade associations in those markets. You need collaboration to create long-term solutions. With material innovation, the main barrier is that research takes time. But this is a good saying: “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.” Sustainability work requires a lot of collaboration and it simply takes time. IS IT GENERALLY UNDERSTOOD THAT THIS IS THE ONLY WAY FORWARD FOR THE FASHION INDUSTRY? Internally, yes. And I think many other brands view it that way. But I’m still surprised that some don’t even have their minds set on it, because to me, no matter if you do it from an ethical perspective or not, it’s about securing the business, and if you want to be in the business in 2050, what materials will you use? How will you meet the customer’s expectations? I don’t understand how you can operate a business and not really have this top of mind. But I have an organisation of 250 people working with this, a lot of the smaller brands might have one person. I hope that being so big, we can help in a sense. We share what we’re doing with the industry so others can follow in those steps. ON ONE HAND, H&M ENCOURAGES US TO HOLD ONTO THE CLOTHES WE’VE GOT AND REALLY CARE FOR THEM, DONATE CLOTHING, RECYCLE IT, BUT IT’S ALSO A BUSINESS THAT WANTS US TO KEEP BUYING CLOTHES. HOW DO THOSE MENTALITIES COEXIST? Looking into population growth, we know there’ll be more people, and people need clothes. And I don’t see it’s about them buying more clothes than they need, but rather that whatever they buy, we would like them to buy from us. I hope we have such a great offer that customers feel, if they need a pair of socks, a pair of trousers, they go to H&M because it’s a more sustainable choice. So it’s not about increasing consumption; it’s more that we are hopefully increasing the market share.
WHAT SETBACKS HAVE YOU LEARNT FROM?
Long-term, I believe in transparency and I think all companies in this industry need to be open about things. When you are one of the first to publish things, like your supplier list, there’s always a risk that instead of being praised, you become more scrutinised and those who aren’t transparent get away with it. But that is part of leadership – it’s about sticking your neck out to do something you very much believe in. YOU’RE PUSHING FORWARD IN A FIELD WHERE THERE ARE A LOT OF UNCERTAINTIES. DO YOU PERSONALLY CONSULT YOUR OWN MORAL COMPASS? We collaborate with a lot of experts and stakeholders, so when it comes to what materials we should push for in 2019 versus 2020, there’s a lot of input. That’s quite scientific. But then you have other things that [require], as you say, the moral compass. At H&M, we have always aimed for doing it right. It may not always be the most communicative solution, it may not be the quickest one, but you’ll always aim for the most sustainable solution. So that is really where I come back to the core. You always go with what you feel is right, the thing that makes you sleep well at night.
AND DO YOU SLEEP WELL AT NIGHT?
I still worry about the industry at large. How can we get everyone along on the journey, because us doing everything right will solve some things, but not all. It’s important to get collaboration, for others to move in the same direction, to find those mobilising powers – where are the platforms where everyone can meet? That is also part of leadership, seeing how we can make others come to the table and discuss what needs to be done. And I think that’s been exceeded in some areas that I’m really proud of, like wages. Today we are collaborating with 99 other brands to push for fair living wages in the supply chain. The Bangladesh Accord [on Fire and Building Safety] is another example. It takes time, but compared to where we were 20 years ago, so much has changed in that area.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR YOUR CHILDREN IN THEIR LIFETIME?
I hope we can find a solution that enables my children and their friends to live a life that is not in conflict with the planet. That is really what I would like to aim for. The H&M Conscious Exclusive 2018 collection will be available in selected stores worldwide from April 19
Recycled silver tulip earrings, $79.99, H&M CONSCIOUS EXCLUSIVE, hm.com/au
Recycled polyester slippers, $119, H&M CONSCIOUS EXCLUSIVE, hm.com/au