Why sustainability matters to global retailers - with Magnus Olsson from H&M

April 14, 2021

Corporate sustainability is top of mind for many retailers, suppliers, and consumers. This week, we interviewed Magnus Olsson, the Regional Manager for Greater China at H&M, to learn how a large, global retailer continues to keep sustainability at the heart of what they do.

Why is corporate sustainability important?

It's important to both myself and the company from many different perspectives. First of all, we know that the clothing industry has a significant impact on the environment. With our ambition to grow, we also realise that we need to take responsibility for the planet's resources. 

Our corporate sustainability work weighs into every part of what we're doing. Our internal ambition is one side, but at the same time, customers also expect sustainability from us today. Customers are more and more interested in buying from sustainable companies that offer products made sustainably. 

We have a vision of being at the forefront of a more sustainable retail industry. We want to lead the change by making our business circular, climate positive, and fair and equal. It is not just reducing the environmental impact but also empowering people in our supply chain, our company, and the industry.

What new initiatives are H&M doing to improve their sustainability?

We have a challenging goal set by the company and the board to be climate positive, meaning saving more greenhouse gas emissions than you are generating, by 2040. And for a global retailer in the fashion industry, to be climate positive is a huge challenge. 

It's about ensuring that sustainability is not an afterthought, but rather is weaved into everything we do. 

We have many different initiatives linked to each function of the company. Businesses must consider sustainability throughout the whole product life cycle, whether it comes to product design, sourcing, selling, or logistics.

At the same time, how we operate our business is also essential. How do we make our stores more sustainable? How do we only use green electricity? How do we make sure that our deliveries are by electric vehicles? How do we reduce carbon dioxide emissions in our global transportation? 

There's a lot of innovation happening and many ideas that we support.

How has H&M stayed on top of the industry through challenges created by COVID-19?

When a crisis like this happens, how you deal with it is based on the infrastructure built up during non-crisis times. 

If you have good relationships with suppliers and other stakeholders, it's easier to be flexible in challenging times because you have an established relationship. For instance, our positive and long term relationship with our suppliers meant that we could find flexible solutions and at the same time we promised to stick to our commitments as a buyer. 

Any advice for emerging brands for entering the industry on how to stand out?

First of all, it's important for a new brand to identify their strengths, what they contribute to the industry, and to build upon those strengths. 

It's not only about the brilliant idea, but also not forgetting about the execution. How do you then perform to the fullest extent? By staying very customer-centric. If you always put the customer first and link your execution to that, you increase the chances of success. 

Last but not least, being able to change. If you see that something is not working, change it. And if you find something that positively surprised you, explore that idea.

What is something that you're optimistic about for the industry in the next year. 

I am optimistic about sustainability because more and more companies are taking this seriously. They understand that the fashion industry cannot just continue as it has before, and customers are also asking for it. 

I also hope that design and creativity that challenge our way of thinking will be in focus more. Because to start a brand today, the barrier to entry is quite low. The good thing about that is that more creative companies will come through, which will create many exciting opportunities in the industry.

We hope you enjoyed this Q&A with Magnus Olsson. Be sure to follow Magnus and H&M on Linkedin to stay up to date on new initiatives. 

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