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Collaboration
WWF, H&M Partner on Comprehensive Water-Conservation Strategy

During 2012, fashion brand and retailer H&M and the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) performed an evaluation of H&M's efforts and challenges in connection with water. This year the two organizations will work together to implement a comprehensive global water strategy, which includes educating employees, suppliers and customers.

During 2012, fashion brand and retailer H&M and the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) performed an evaluation of H&M's efforts and challenges in connection with water. This year the two organizations will work together to implement a comprehensive global water strategy, which includes educating employees, suppliers and customers.

H&M designers and buyers will receive additional training in the water impacts of raw material production as well as wet processes for different styles, to promote more sustainable choices. H&M will also improve its internal water efficiency and attempt to minimize its suppliers’ impact on water while inspiring customers to use water responsibly.

In total, H&M said roughly 1,000 staff in buying offices, production and sales will be directly involved in implementing the strategy, and all 94,000 H&M employees will learn about water issues.

The strategy will be implemented across all of H&M’s 48 national markets, with the aim of reaching all 750 direct suppliers and many fabric manufacturers with information about the new water strategy. H&M will initially work on engagement on water management with 190 suppliers manufacturing the majority of its products. River basin stakeholder engagement will be focused on the Yangtze in China and Brahmaputra in Bangladesh.

Currently, 2.7 billion people — roughly 40 percent of the world’s population — live in river basins that experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year, according to WWF’s 2012 Living Planet Report. About a third of the units that perform wet processes for H&M are located in areas which are now, or will be by 2025, considered extremely water scarce.

WWF and H&M will work in collaboration with public policy makers, NGOs, water institutions and other companies to support better management of particular river basins in China and Bangladesh. In addition, H&M will support the WWF conservation projects on water in the Yangtze river basin in China.

WWF’s model of water stewardship encompasses all aspects of a business’ approach to water, and moves beyond the ‘factory gate’ to address impacts in relevant river basins. This is the first time a fashion company has applied such a comprehensive model across their whole business, according to WWF.

“This partnership marks an evolution in the corporate approach to water. 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 neighbor and good steward of shared resources. H&M’s water strategy is an integral part of its business plan. We hope other companies will be inspired to take the same approach,” says Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International.

According to a report produced last year, the top ten river basins by population are expected to produce a quarter of global GDP by 2050 — a figure greater than the combined future economies of the US, Japan and Germany — and a sharp increase from a current contribution of 10 percent. The report also forecasts that by 2050, without any improvement in water resource management, seven of these basins will face unsustainable water consumption, with significant to severe water scarcity, meaning at least 30 percent of the natural water run-off is being consumed.

@Bart_King is a freelance writer and communications consultant.

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