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  • Writer's pictureKartik Verma

Fashion and sustainability - Part 2

Updated: May 26, 2022

In the first part of this two part series, we explored the environmental impact of fashion as an industry and looked at a sustainable fashion company Rubi Labs - check out part 1 if you haven’t already. Today, we look at H&M sustainability goals and Vitro Labs, a startup that is aiming to grow lab based leather.

What to expect today:

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Climate impact at H&M

Image Source: Solar panels at H&M's Head Office, Stockholm

H&M Group produces an annual sustainability performance report that covers sustainability strategy, policies, goals, programmes and performance data for the global group operations of H&M. Today, we take a peek under the hood to talk about their goals in a bit more detail.

H&M carbon emission goals

The company has highlighted two main goals when it comes to carbon emissions:

  • Havle their carbon emissions every decade, more specifically, reduce Scope 1,2 and 3 emissions by 56% from a 2019 baseline (not sure about Scope 1,2 and 3 emissions, check out this coverage from the climate optimist)

  • Achieve net-zero no later than 2040, using the Science Based Targets initiative’s (SBTi) definition (the company has submitted near term and long term SBTs waiting for approval from SBTi)

In the short term, the company plans to:

  • Achieve a 25% reduction in electricity intensity in stores by 2030

  • Use 100% renewable energy by 2030 in their own operations (Largely scope 2 emissions)

  • Source 30% recycled materials by 2025

  • Not onboard any new suppliers that have a coal-based boiler in their production plants to phase out coal completely from their supply chains

Where do H&Ms emissions come from?

  • Scope 1 emissions: Own operations (think transport, own production facilities etc.)

  • Scope 2 emissions: Emissions through use of electricity in plants, stores, facilities etc.

  • Scope 3 emissions: Indirect emissions, such as emissions related to raw materials, fabric production, garment manufacturing etc, transport-related activities in vehicles not owned by H&M, electricity-related activities not covered in scope 2, outsourced activities and waste disposal (see the chart below for a detailed breakdown of Scope 3 emissions)

Source: H&M Sustainability disclosure Report 2021

Progress so far

The company has made significant progress from 2019. H&M reduced its total Scope 1 & 2 emissions down 22% from 2019 to 50k tonnes in 2021. In addition, its Scope 3 emissions are down 9% from 2019 to 7,742k tonnes in 2021. Although down from 2021 levels, the company saw its absolute emissions increase by 408k tonnes from 2020 (which is 8x the direct carbon emissions from its operations). H&M in its disclosure has said the increase in scope 3 emissions compared to last year was largely due to a rebound in production and sales and related increases in product transportation, following the significant impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 (if I have to guess, that basically means increased operation times due to covid social distancing and maybe having to air-freight items because of supply chain woes).

Comparing H&M and Zara

Comparing H&Ms goals with Inditex (Zara’s parent company) we find that the Inditex group seems to have the same long term goal as H&M of achieving net zero by 2040. In addition, Inditex has a goal of reducing Scope 1 & 2 emissions by 90% by 2030 compared to only 56% for H&M however in Scope 3 emissions (which make up about 90% of all emissions) H&M seems to have a much more aggressive target of achieving 56% reduction compared to 20% reduction for Inditex.

Lab grown leather at Vitro Labs

Image Source: Vitro Labs

California-based startup Vitro Labs which makes cell-cultivated leather recently raised $39 million in funding from investors including Kering SA, the maker of brands such as Gucci and Saint Laurent. The startup, founded in 2016, has raised $46 million till date and is looking to disrupt the $400 billion leather goods industry.

How are they making leather in the lab?

The company, in the research and pilot stage currently, has outlined their three step process using stem-cell technology:

  • Seed stage: Take cells from a living animal one-time. Cells only need to be taken once and under the right conditions, these cells can then self-regenerate, indefinitely, producing all that's needed to make a high-quality animal hide.

  • Grow stage: Cells know exactly what to do when provided the right environment. So we do just that. Through specialized bioreactors, scientists provide the right signals and nutrients the cells need to grow into an animal hide. Instead of years of growth on an animal, the process takes just a few weeks.

  • Harvest stage: Once the growth phase is complete, the hides (grown from cells) can go directly into tanning, with no additional processing. Since the biology is configured so that cells grow only what's needed, the tanning process is simplified, meaning a significant reduction in the environmental impact.

Market for alternate materials is heating up

The sector to develop alternative materials that replicate animal products is experiencing a growth spurt this year as brands and consumers demand more sustainable options. The 95 firms in the space raised an estimated $980 million last year, double the amount in 2020, according to the nonprofit Material Innovation Initiative. More than half of the firms have launched since 2014 and a majority of them are focused on creating leather-like material from mushroom roots, known as mycelium, as well as pineapples, cactus and other organic ingredients or from stem-cell technology.

(p.s if you want to know more about mycelium, check out the planet optimist’s cover of mycelium and its role in the fight against climate change)

Recommendations from the team

  • Quiz - How fashionable are you? - I am….not - got called a “fashion reject” (brb, headed to buy fashion magazines right now)

  • NPR - Environmental impact of when you click ‘buy now’ (7 min video)

  • Hasan Minhaj - Ugly truth of fast fashion (30 min video)

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