One Year On: H&M & Water Stewardship

By Julia Bakutis 13 May, 2014

H&M's Julia Bakutis updates us on what they have done & what challenges lie ahead for H&M as a water steward

All staff received basic water awareness training & teams in place for a Yangtze Basin engagement plan
By 2015 all 500 supplier factories will have: annual water targets, improved chemical management & more
Started to audit fabric mills for better understanding & effective action but there still a lot of work to do

About a year ago, H&M introduced to China Water Risk readers why water is so important to its value chain and what H&M planned to do in China to mitigate and minimize this risk. If you haven’t read it, check out the article here.

One year into H&M’s partnership with WWF for water stewardship, where are we?

Water awareness training

“Basic water awareness training has been rolled out for all 116,000 H&M employees worldwide”


H&M benefits from committed leadership on sustainability and on water in particular. Basic water awareness training has been rolled out for all 116,000 H&M employees worldwide, and all 800 staff in the buying and design departments have received training on sustainable raw material choices.

H&M and WWF have dedicated resources to work together to implement a strong international partnership between the two organizations with clear goals on water stewardship and leadership.

Both organisations have strong local teams in China working to implement a Yangtze Basin engagement plan to improve water quality and allocation of water resources.

“By 2015, all 500 supplier factories with wet processes will have annual water targets…”

In addition, H&M has many strong and long-term relationships with suppliers in China. We will benefit from this strength when implementing improved water management processes in H&M suppliers with wet processes. By 2015, all 500 supplier factories with wet processes will have annual water targets, improved water use measurements, improved chemical management, reduced water use and an increased water recycling rate.

 A shared responsibility

“As H&M doesn’t own any factories …means that we must build trust and a shared vision with our partners”


Water as a shared resource is also a shared responsibility. As H&M doesn’t own any factories the company therefore supports its supply chain partners to take ownership and improve the use of water in their operations. We provide training and capacity building to support our partners in this work, but ultimately the responsibility for better water stewardship rests in the hands of H&M suppliers.

We strongly believe that this is the most sustainable approach to water management, but it means that we first must build trust and a shared vision with our partners.


“In China there is a strong government incentive to act on environmental issues.”

In China there is a strong government incentive to act on environmental issues. H&M and WWF have a great opportunity to capitalize on this moment and work with the government to encourage better policies and industry practices.

Fabric mills have big impacts on water because their processes are traditionally water and chemical intense. H&M does not have a direct business relationship with the fabric mills that our suppliers source from, but the. We have now started to audit selected mills, allowing H&M to have a better understanding of our water risk in China. With this knowledge, we are better able to support improvements in cleaner production.

A collective approach

H&M has set its sight on becoming the fashion industry’s leading water steward. But reducing negative water impacts is not something a single company or organisation can solve, but with a collective approach we can achieve a lot. It can promote better practices not just in our own supply chain, but also throughout the whole industry. With our new water strategy, we hope to inspire others to take the same approach and be part of the solution.

More about H&M’s water strategy here.

To learn more, visit:

This article has been updated since it was published.

Further Reading

  • Business & Society: Building Trust – Given pressing societal issues, companies are now expected to lead the change across their business value chain. Edelman’s Ashley Hegland on why businesses need to reprioritize value to include such societal benefits to build & maintain trust or face reputational brand damage
  • AIDF Water Summit: 5 Takeaways – Dawn McGregor gives us her 5 takeaways from AIDF’s Asia Water Security Summit ranging from exposure of GDP to water risk to the crucial need for un-siloed approaches and key areas of improvement in the water sector
  • H&M: Water Stewardship in Fashion – Claire Hau tells us why water is important to H&M and how it is pioneering water stewardship in fashion from its work with BSR & IPE, partnership with WWF, to its commitment to ban hazardous chemicals by 2020
  • Water Stewardship: A Stake in the Ground – There is no universally agreed definition of water stewardship, leaving companies unsure of what it is and what to do. Stuart Orr walks us through WWF’s latest report, A Stake in the Ground, an introductory guide for companies on managing multi-faceted water risks
  • Financing Innovations in Industrial Water – Given China’s limited water supply & rising water tariffs there is no better time to finance water efficiency upgrades. IFC talks us through their innovative financing programme for the textile sector that not only saves water & energy but also makes a return within a short payback term
  • Materials Sustainability in the Higg Index – Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Sousa & Young on how Nike’s Materials Sustainability Index can help brands & suppliers make the right water-friendly choices in raw material selection
  • Fashion Update! Brand Winners & Sinners – With the new Phase III Textiles Investigative Report released by 7 China NGOs, we look at who has managed to stay on top since April 2012
Julia Bakutis
Author: Julia Bakutis
Julia Bakutis is based in Shanghai where she holds the role Relations Responsible for H&M Sustainability. Julia strengthens H&M’s sustainability program and compliance work with increased stakeholder engagement and proactive communication and updates to external and internal partners. Her goal is to increase awareness and understanding of sustainability, and to drive H&M’s sustainability agenda at the industry and institutional level, working with as many partners as possible. Covering H&M’s supply chain in China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, Julia’s focus in China is on water stewardship and chemical management initiatives. Prior to H&M, Julia worked for a number of non-governmental organizations in China, Vietnam and the United States, including the Fair Labor Organization and the International Crisis Group, with a focus on communications and fundraising.
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