$100 Million for a More Sustainable Fashion Industry

H&M ribbed turtleneck polyester and wool sweater and coat. The polyester used in the sweater is 64 percent recycled. 2020 (Photo courtesy H&M Group)


STOCKHOLM, Sweden, December 21, 2020 (ENS) – Two fashion organizations, one on each side of the globe – the nonprofit H&M Foundation in Stockholm and the government of Hong Kong’s Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel, HKRITA, are investing in a more sustainable fashion future by extending their presence in the Planet First program.

H&M ribbed turtleneck polyester and wool sweater and coat. The polyester used in the sweater is 64 percent recycled. 2020 (Photo courtesy H&M Group)

To help battle climate change, the Planet First program examines new technologies that will study every aspect of the Earth’s natural and environmental systems and takes the global and circular economy into account.

“Our partnership with the H&M Foundation is guided by speed, scale and impact. Our goal is to find technologies and solutions that we openly share with the industry to ensure rapid scaling and positive impact,”  said HKRITA Chief Executive Edwin Keh.

“To our knowledge, this is the most ambitious program in our industry to move the needle in this field, and we are very excited to start discovering the breakthroughs that can change the game,” Keh said.

Planet First performs and evaluates research projects based on their speed. It uses feedback from applied research to progress faster and works with large corporations using their scale to identify the most critical issues and to discover solutions quickly. The impact is maximized as all findings and technologies are shared with all Planet First members.

The extension of the Planet First program from 2020 to 2024 will be funded with a budget of US$100 million dollars over this five year period.

Hennes & Mauritz AB, known simply as H&M, is a Swedish multinational clothing-retail company known for its fast-fashion clothing for men, women, teenagers and children. As of November 2019, H&M operates more than 5,000 stores in 74 countries.

Privately funded by the Stefan Persson family, founders and main owners of H&M Group, “The H&M Foundation is an independent legal entity with no direct links to H&M Group, working beyond the company sphere,” the foundation explains on its website.

The H&M Foundation has donated US$12 million to the program, while the Hong Kong Government‘s Innovation and Technology Fund provided additional donations under the H&M Foundation’s existing mechanisms that will total $100 million.

H&M polyester party dress. The company’s goal is to use 100 percent recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. 2020 (Photo courtesy H&M Group)

The foundation says it is motivated to ensure the well-being of future generations by fast-tracking the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

HKRITA, on the other hand, provides easy access to services in research, technology transfer, and commercialization in order to enhance industrial sustainability.

Awareness of global warming’s potentially catastrophic events is on the rise, and large-scale corporations are scouting for more sustainable practices, especially when it comes to climate change.

While the value chain processes throughout the fashion world have been improved, the adjustment is not enough to battle a warming climate. Fashion makes a sizable contribution to climate change. The sector was responsible for 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, about four percent of the global total.

Clothing companies Patagonia and Esprit began pioneering sustainable clothing in the late 1980s, as their founders saw the negative environmental impacts of the clothing manufacturing industry.

Global common resources, such as land, water, climate, and biodiversity, are all important ingredients in the recipe of life. Yet, with a warming climate, the interactions among these resources and their impact on one another are jeopardized.

Innovative Fashion Technologies

H&M Foundation and HKRITA originally collaborated on a program called the Recycling Revolution, from 2016 to 2019. The Recycling Revolution aimed to develop technology that recycles old clothing made out of different materials and blends them into new fabrics and yarns.

One of the new Planet First programs will reintroduce the Green Machine technology that was developed by the H&M Foundation and HKRITA in 2018. The Green Machine produced a toxic-free cellulose powder that could be used to produce new clothing.

Now, most recycled polyester in clothing comes from plastic bottles, but with the Green Machine, the focus is on textile-to-textile polyester recycling, considered a giant leap forward for the fashion industry.

As a surprise bonus, the cellulose powder from the Green Machine has become beneficial for farmers.

“In a pilot study carried out by Shahi [a large apparel manufacturer] in India, we found that HKRITA’s superabsorbent powder increased cotton crop yield by 20 percent. We believe this is because the powder improves water retention of the crop, especially under extreme water stress conditions. The quality of cotton grown this way was better and the fibers were stronger and longer,” said Anant Ahuja, head of organizational development with Shahi Exports.

“These improvements can potentially enable farmers to receive a better market price. In spring 2021, we plan to run a larger pilot. We believe this research can help both cotton farmers and also benefit the environment by enabling the use of textile waste as an eco-friendly superabsorbent powder and by reducing water consumption in cotton production,” Ahuja said.

Green Machine
H&M and HKRITA researchers have discovered a hydrothermal process that separates and recycles cotton and polyester blends into new fibers and cellulose powder. 2018 (Photo courtesy H&M Foundation)

While the Green Machine marked a technical accomplishment, the Planet First program is still looking for ways to further resolve the challenges that industries pose to a warming climate.

Another idea that the Planet First program is trying to put into effect is textiles that could sequester, or absorb, the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) on their own.

What if textiles could sequester CO2? This is another topic for research that has already resulted in a prototype. Consumers could potentially help decrease carbon dioxide in the air by simply wearing these clothes.

“Fashion is part of the problem but it’s also part of the solution,” said Nina Marenzi, founder and director of the Sustainable Angle, a not-for-profit organization that promotes green textiles at its annual Future Fabric Expo. “We begin with materials and making them sustainable, and if fashion supply chains can change, then we start to address that,” she told “The Guardian” newspaper.

The Planet First program is working from an open factory. People involved in the products and the brands will be able to test and create new products quickly. Creating an open factory environment allows innovators to have easy access to the products they need to test, eliminating wasted time.

In an effort to protect the global commons, the H&M Foundation is pushing towards a Planet Positive Fashion industry.

Choosing to participate in a positive future, the fast fashion impact on the environment will be minimized by adding environmental benefits starting at the value chain. Fast fashion is a business model that replicates runway trends and high-fashion designs, and mass produces them at low cost.

As the global population continues to push past seven billion, large fashion corporations are starting to revise their items to be more sustainable as the planet’s tolerance for high temperatures is already being pushed beyond its capacity.

Yet, how to limit the practices used by these large corporations to further mitigate the negative planetary effects of their actions is still unknown.

“We don’t know what a Planet Positive Fashion industry will look like, no one does,” said Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at the H&M Foundation. “This goal is directional and requires innovation and thinking outside the box in every step of the fashion value chain. By signing up for five more years with HKRITA, we not only dip our toes but take the plunge with this partnership to figure this out, and we look forward to making the Planet First program a revolutionary one.”

— By Georgia Seidman

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2020. All rights reserved.


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