Just a few months ago, fashion retailer H&M made waves by hooking up with cutting edge chanteuse Lana Del Rey, and how do you follow that act? Well, given H&M's rather impressive record on sustainability, you form a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to develop a plan for ensuring sustainable water use throughout your supply chain. The strategy, which H&M describes as a "game changer in the fashion industry," will be based on an evaluation of H&M's operations, which the company undertook with WWF in 2012.
Water is a particularly urgent area of focus for manufacturers like H&M. According to WWF's 2012 Living Planet Report, about 40 percent of the world's population lives in river basins that are already experiencing severe water scarcity at least part of the year. By 2025, about one-third of H&M's "wet processing" units will be located in areas of extreme water scarcity.
The company plans to implement the new strategy in all of its 48 national markets, including 750 direct suppliers and fabric manufacturers.
The strategy also calls for improving water efficiency within H&M's operations, and using the company's high public profile to encourage its customers to adopt more responsible water use habits.
The effort includes educating all 94,000 H&M employees on water issues, as well as deploying about 1,000 employees to implement the strategy (mainly in buying offices, production and sales).
The initial push will include the 190 suppliers that make most of H&M's products, located the Yangtze river basin in China and Brahmaputra in Bangladesh. In addition to encouraging water responsibility by these suppliers, H&M will also support WWF's conservation projects in these two river basins.
The company has already made some inroads in that area. A couple of years ago it became the largest buyer of organic cotton in the world. It has also been launching recycled and organic clothing lines for several years, and it stepped up those initiatives last year with the introduction of a glamorous, red carpet-themed line.
Just last month, H&M also announced the launch of a worldwide clothing recycling initiative, in which customers in all of its 48 markets can conveniently drop off their used H&M clothes at any H&M store.
In a speech back in May 2011, Levi CEO and President John Anderson described how apparel companies can and should take it to the next level, by moving beyond site compliance to embrace the daily lives of workers in communities that host a company's facilities.
Under Anderson's plan, Levi's will coordinate its efforts with the United Nations Millennium Development anti-poverty initiatives.
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Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.