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H&M Foundation Reveals Winners of 2016 Global Change Award, Aims for Climate Positivity

Image Credit: H&M Foundation

The concept of fast fashion isn’t exactly synonymous with conscious consumerism and sustainability, but major retailer H&M has been at the forefront of the movement to change that — and the fashion industry as a whole.

Alongside the release of its 2016 sustainability report, the fast fashion giant revealed several new and ambitious goals that take its commitment to closing the loop on fashion to the next level — including becoming ‘climate positive.’ By 2030 the brand plans to use 100 percent recycled and other sustainably-sourced materials and by 2040 become climate positive throughout its entire value chain — from its brand-owned stores to the manufacturing facilities and cotton farms.

To become climate positive, H&M will focus on reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than its value chain emits, through energy efficiency initiatives, the use of 100 percent renewable energy in its own operations, new technological solutions that absorb unavoidable emissions.

In addition to continuing the use of cotton certified by the Better Cotton Initiative, as well as organic cotton, recycled polyester and Tencel®Lyocell, H&M has teamed up with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Stockholm University’s Stockholm Resilience Center to explore how a circular system for producing and using textiles would look like. In addition to its 2030 goal of using only recycled or sustainably-sourced materials, H&M has pledged to use only sustainably produced cotton in its products by 2020.

The move is a bold one and has the potential to set a new precedent for the industry. Yet despite the marked progress, the elephant in the room remains: the problem of unchecked consumption.


Meanwhile, the H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award has revealed the five winners of its 2016 innovation challenge. A one-million-euro grant was split between them by the global public in an online vote, which was held between March 27 to April. The winners include:

  • Grape Leather: Rosella Longobardo and her team have pioneered a process to use waste from wine production, such as grape skins and stalks, to create a new type of vegetable leather that requires less energy, water and no harsh chemicals to produce. Grant: €300,000
  • Solar Textiles: Miguel Modestino’s Swiss-American team has developed a concept for a nylon production process that uses only water, plant waste and solar energy. The proposed process would also bind greenhouse gases into fashion fabrics, instead of releasing them into the atmosphere. If successful, the material would be identical to existing nylon, but created from renewable resources in a sustainable way. With their grant, the team will focus on developing a proof-of-concept prototype that could later be expanded for large scale production, Grant: €250,000
  • Content Thread: Led by Anura Rathnayake, Content Thread wants to simplify the recycling process for clothing with the help of digital tagging. By attaching digital tags in the form of a RFID thread to each garment at the manufacturing stage, the startup can create a digitized ‘ingredients list’ that gives recyclers all the information needed to recycle garments correctly. A prototype of the threads has been produced and is successfully being introduced by manufacturers. More research is required to advance the technology and to produce at scale. Grant: €150,000
  • Denim-Dyed Denim: Denim is one of the most widely used textiles in the fashion industry — and one of the most problematic with its intensive usage of water, energy and chemicals that often find their way into waterways. Professor Xungai Wang and his team have devised a new process that reduces both the amount of water and energy used in production and dyeing. By using old denim and breaking it down into fine particles, a coloring powder can be produced to dye new denim or make prints on other textiles. Today, there is already a prototype for the process and scaling up production and finding denim producers and brands to adopt the idea will be the next step. Grant: €150,000
  • Manure Couture: Hailing from the Netherlands, Jalila Essaidi and her team have found a way to transform the cellulose in cow manure into biodegradable textiles, thereby reducing methane gas production, as well as the contamination of soil and water. Now in a prototype stage, the Dutch team is looking to find partnerships to bring the idea to scale. Grant: €150,000

“I congratulate all five winning teams. They have the potential to help reinvent the fashion industry, enabling products and resources to have more than one life. Winning the Global Change Award gives you a boost through funding, coaching, industry access and validation that you probably can’t find elsewhere. If you want to help reinvent one of the largest industries in the world, this is the place to go,” said Karl-Johan Persson, board member of the H&M Foundation and CEO of H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB.

The award ceremony on April 5 marked the beginning of a one-year innovation accelerator provided by the H&M Foundation in collaboration with Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The program will help the winners develop their ideas, focusing on three main areas: circular economy, innovation and fashion industry connection.

“Consumer expectations for more sustainable products are placing an emphasis on the industry to fundamentally reexamine and redesign the entire fashion value chain. The Global Change Award is the first of its kind challenge for early stage innovation in fashion and we are impressed by the level of bold creativity and disruptive innovation shown by the five award winners,” said Jill Standish, Senior Managing Director of Retail at Accenture.

“We are passionate about helping them further develop their inspiring ideas through the Accelerator program, to support them in driving the change towards a circular fashion industry.”

“Sustainable development is one of KTH’s pillars and as a world-class university of technology, we’re an obvious engine and knowledge hub for this. These five amazing innovations can contribute in building a sustainable future and we look forward to kick off the one-year accelerator program with the winners,” said Sigbritt Karlsson, President of KTH.

The Global Change Award has quickly become the fashion industry’s hotspot for circular innovation and now a Trend Report has been released by Accenture and the H&M Foundation highlighting lessons learned, in addition to findings and trends within circular fashion and open innovation based on analytics performed on the 3,000 applications submitted for the second Global Change Award.


Libby MacCarthy is an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands, based in Maine and France. She is a former urban planner specializing in sustainable cities, and an urban farming and film photography enthusiast. She holds a BA in Environment, Society and… [Read more about Libby MacCarthy]