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Turning ambition into action: why planet positive is fashion’s new must-have

Professor Johan Rockström and H&M Foundation Strategy Lead Christiane Dolva on the meaning of a planet positive future and the means required to achieve it.

Christiane Dolva, Strategy Lead H&M Foundation

Keeping up with every new sustainability term isn’t easy. While some are products of corporate communication and marketing campaigns, most new terms emerge from the scientific community and newfound tactics for tackling climate change.

“Planet positive is a scientific necessity today,” says renowned climate scientist professor Johan Rockström, and continues:

“We are putting the stability of the whole planet at risk, and it won’t be enough just to reduce environmental impacts — we have to build resilience and regenerate the capacity of the Earth’s systems.”

Planet positive means to regenerate, replenish and create conditions for more life.

Regenerate, replenish and build resilience

Planet positive means to regenerate, replenish and create conditions for more life. Currently, humanity consumes ecological resources equivalent to 1.6 Earths per year, and the global middle class is growing rapidly, resulting in increased consumption. So, aiming for circularity or neutrality just isn’t enough. And the solutions to the climate crisis aren’t Earth-friendly or more sustainable alternatives.

For fashion to become planet positive, it must retire its current business model and build a future-proofed one. Every garment needs to remove emissions from the atmosphere, every fibre needs to have regenerative qualities, and the entire industry’s impact on land and water must create conditions for improved biodiversity.

“Can the fashion and textile industry succeed on this journey? I would argue that, yes, we have the solutions, and we have the knowledge required to work from source all the way to the consumer along a new way of doing business. I think the textile industry has a big responsibility here. It can do a lot, but cannot do it alone. It requires policies to support as well,” says professor Johan Rockström.

Connecting industry to innovators

We at the H&M Foundation are on a mission to put the solutions to the industry’s planetary impact in the spotlight. We focus our work on industry stakeholders, and urge them to discover and use the new ideas and innovations that can enable and add speed to the journey towards a planet positive fashion future.

“We find and fund tools that we add to an ever-increasing toolbox of solutions,” says Christiane Dolva, H&M Foundation Strategy Lead, about the vast range of innovations we support.

“We spur the industry’s interest in innovation and see positive change happening and accelerating right now. Sustainability isn’t just a word, it’s a focus area across the industry, and there’s massive interest and demand for the solutions we support.”

Sustainability as a business and survival strategy

So, we’re going to innovate our way out of the climate crisis and into a planet positive future? Not at all. According to Christiane Dolva, innovation is crucial — but not the singular silver bullet.

“Business as usual is in no way an option. Emissions need to come down drastically, waste needs to end, and all of us need to address the impact of overconsumption.”

Christiane Dolva

While this transformation is yet far from realised, Johan Rockström, too, is noticing exciting and radical changes in businesses’ sustainability playbooks and roadmaps.

“The industry is rising up, saying it’s ready to transform and move towards a planet positive, circular business model. And moreover, it wants to do it right, not only to save the planet for future generations but because it sees it as a survival strategy and a more competitive path. That is a very powerful narrative because it’s a narrative that political leaders listen to, and that could lead to a better kind of private-public industry policy engagement. And I think this is what we need to accelerate the transformation,” he says.

So, a planet positive fashion future is possible. But, with the urgency of the climate crisis and its ensuing environmental impacts, the biggest question is when it will become reality.

“We won’t have a planet positive industry tomorrow, or 2025 or even in 2030. But the more progress we make, the closer we get to achieving it. It might not be possible to set a roadmap or time frame yet — but research and science show that it is achievable. Now, the entire industry needs to come together and rethink processes — and pivot. We’re past patch-work solutions, now is the time for action and we at the H&M Foundation exist to support this colossal transformation,” says Christiane Dolva.

The quotes from professor Johan Rockström are taken from a previous interview, recorded for the H&M Foundation in the spring of 2022. Watch it in full below to learn more about the path towards a planet positive future.