According to a press release early this year, clothing retailer H&M has partnered with WWF in order to address water supply issues in a number of countries where you can find many factories producing the brand’s clothing.

After having performed a comprehensive evaluation of efforts and challenges associated with water in 2012, H&M thought it integral to incorporate a new strategy into its existing business plan. The strategy will be implemented across all of H&M’s 48 national markets and hopes to reach all 750 direct suppliers as well as numerous fabric manufacturers with information about the strategy, says the release.

A business case for being a good neighbour

According to Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International, it’s beneficial for any business to re-evaluate how water is used at various points throughout the supply chain: “H&M understands that its long-term success depends on access to adequate water supplies. It also understands that its social license to operate depends on being a good neighbour and good steward of shared resources. H&M’s water strategy is an integral part of its business plan.” While enhancing its reputation as a responsible retailer, H&M hopes to stabilize costs and prevent losses from external factors that are so often, beyond the control of the corporation.

Along similar lines, in a quote published by Business Green, WWF’s freshwater manager, Stuart Orr, says that “Water is posing significant risk to H&M’s business and we would suggest it is similar for almost all companies and investors.”

All about H&M’s new water management strategy

According to the sustainability page on the H&M website one third of the factories that produce clothing for H&M using wet process are located in areas that suffer from an extreme scarcity of water.

An article in The Guardian reveals that the strategy developed between H&M and WWF includes 30 water-connected objectives in the following five focus areas: raising awareness around water; increasing knowledge about water impacts throughout the value chain; internal actions around water management; engaging stakeholders; and influencing governments. According to the article, the strategy will target Bangladesh, China and other parts of Asia.

In order to manage objectives, the retailer will be applying their strategy at various levels throughout the supply chain, from suppliers to fabric producers and so on. “This is about stewardship, meaning that we want to become a leader to take responsibility in the whole value chain,” says Helena Helmersson, H&M’s head of sustainability.

A track record of reducing negative water impacts and excess consumption

This isn’t the first step H&M has taken in an effort to reduce negative water impacts along the length of their value chain. According to the retailer’s website, the company has been active for more than 10 years in water-related programs, setting impressively high standards for other members of the industry.

Some of these programs include signing onto “The Better Cotton Initiative” (aims to reduces water used in the cultivation of cotton); supporting WaterAid with the goal of improving safe water and sanitation for people around the world; and signing onto the CEO Water Mandate, an initiative put together by the UN Global Compact, committing the company to improve the water efficiency for itself and the suppliers it works with.

Questions or comments about H&M’s new water management strategy? As always, leave them below!

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