H&M CEO: Climate Activism Can Have ‘Terrible Social Consequences’ for the Fashion Industry

H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson is making headlines for his recent comment on climate activism, which he said poses a “terrible” threat to the fast-fashion industry.

On Sunday, Bloomberg reported Persson’s stance on “consumer shaming.” The retail chief suggested many social movements centered on the environmental crisis are “about ‘stop doing things, stop consuming, stop flying.’ “

“Yes, that may lead to a small environmental impact,” he told the news outlet, “but it will have terrible social consequences.”

Environmentalists have recently suggested the pressures of speeding up production while reducing costs have often led fast-fashion companies to cut corners on sustainability practices to make a profit. In the interview, Persson explained, “The climate issue is incredibly important. It’s a huge threat and we all need to take it seriously — politicians, companies, individuals. At the same time, the elimination of poverty is a goal that’s at least as important.”

He added, “We must reduce the environmental impact. At the same time, we must also continue to create jobs, get better health care and all the things that come with economic growth.”

According to the United Nations, the apparel industry alone accounts for roughly 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and consumers more energy than both shipping and aviation. H&M’s 2018 sustainability report, released this year in March, noted that 57% of all materials used to make its products are either recycled or sustainably sourced elsewhere, while the company has reduced carbon dioxide emissions from operations by another 11% — taking it closer to its goals of achieving a climate-positive value chain by 2040.

“We are part of an industry which undoubtedly faces significant challenges when it comes to environmental and social sustainability, but I want H&M Group to continue to be a positive force towards resolving these shared challenges,” Persson wrote in the report. “We know that we are a large company, and we therefore know that we have an equally large responsibility to ensure that we have a positive impact on our planet.”

For the third quarter, reported this month, the Stockholm-based firm posted better-than-expected profits that rose 25% to 5.01 billion krona ($509.3 million) and sales that climbed 12% to 62.57 billion krona ($6.36 billion) — following many months of mounting inventory and heavy promotions, leading to a decline in its bottom line.

H&M’s glowing report came at a tough time for retail, which has seen widespread store closures this year as well as the bankruptcies of competitor Forever 21 and luxury department store chain Barneys New York.

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