Ombori Partners with H&M to Forward Sustainability in Retail

First Posted: Jun 24, 2021 07:44 PM EDT
Ombori Partners with H&M to Forward Sustainability in Retail

(Photo : Ombori Partners with H&M to Forward Sustainability in Retail)

According to Jackie King, the executive director of the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles international trade association research, 95% of all clothes that are thrown away could have been repurposed, reused, or recycled. We are used to hearing the word sustainability applied to energy and packaging, but until recently, it has not been a term much associated with the fashion industry - instead, industry leaders have focused on fast fashion. However, the expectations of up-and-coming generations are shifting, and retailers around the globe are adopting new business models that promote a more sustainable future. Ombori, a Swedish retail technology innovator, is collaborating with several brands to elevate retail sustainability.

Michelle Lancaster, director of sustainability partnerships, sales, and products at Microsoft, writes,  "For the past six or seven years, research has suggested that many consumers - particularly in the younger generations - consider the sustainability credentials of a product as an important factor when making purchase decisions." She continues, "Some studies even showed that these customers would theoretically be prepared to pay higher prices for more sustainable products and services. However, it's not until recently that we've really seen a shift in purchasing behavior to support these claims."

Joining the fight for a sustainable future includes Swedish multinational clothing retail company, H&M. In a newer directive geared towards reducing the negative impacts of fast fashion, H&M has implemented numerous strategies to promote sustainability within the fashion industry. They have developed a vision of  making a positive change as the world continues to fight increasingly concerning challenges such as habitat loss and climate change.

The H&M sustainability vision reads:

"In the face of huge global challenges and the ongoing transformation of our business, our sustainability vision remains more relevant than ever: to lead the change towards circular and climate positive fashion while being a fair and equal company.

Our three sustainability ambitions are closely connected, and we cannot achieve any of them in isolation. Being a fair and equal company requires us to enable equal access to sustainable resources and solutions. Responding to environmental and health crises means tackling existing inequalities. And making progress requires us to be honest, take risks, and be willing to take the lead.

We must consider social and environmental impacts in every decision we make and fully integrate our sustainability ambitions into our business strategy, so that sustainability becomes part of everyday decisions and everyone's job.

We translate strategy into action through our Change-Making Programme: the set of tools that guide our companywide approach to delivering our sustainability ambitions."

H&M Launches Smart Bin in Collaboration with Ombori

As part of the sustainability plan, H&M, in association with Microsoft and Ombori, launched the smart bin in 2020 in their store on Manhattan's 5th Avenue.

Ombori Grid, founded by Andreas Hassellof, has built a reputation for providing powerful digital experiences in physical spaces. Ombori's mission is to empower large enterprises with the technology they need to improve the lives of their customers. Today, Ombori Grid provides ready-to-use solutions that bridge Cognitive Services, IoT, Mobile Phones, and Digital Signage.

The smart bin consists of an interactive screen and an integrated scale, which accepts and weighs clothing donations. Here's how it works:

1. A customer brings bags of clothing from any brand and in any condition to donate at the retail location.

2. The donations are deposited in the smart bins, which are equipped with an Ombori digital screen running on Microsoft Azure.

3. Integrated digital scales automatically weigh the donated clothes.

4. The screen displays how much was donated and provides a recap of the total amount of clothing collected via the bins both at their local store and at other stores nationwide.

5. Next, the screen displays various pictures, social prompts, and a voucher or discount code to reward customers for their donations. Donors can share their experience and receive a 15 percent discount on their next purchase.

6. Finally, donors can scan a QR code to access online information about H&M's sustainability initiatives and other measures they are taking to reduce their environmental impact.

The bins are integrated with Microsoft Teams, allowing staff to be notified via mobile and smartwatch when they need to be emptied. The clothing is then collected, and its material is reprocessed before being spun into new garments. In addition, for every 50 pounds of clothing collected through the program, H&M plants a tree via its partner One Tree Planted.

Following the success of the pilot installation, H&M, Ombori, and Microsoft plan to roll out smart bins across the US, with initial installations focused on H&M stores in Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston. H&M hopes to collect five million pounds of recycled clothing through the smart bins in the USA in 2020, which will enable the company to plant 100,000 trees via collaboration with the One Tree Planted organization.

Leveraging Technology to Promote Sustainability

By leveraging the technology offered by Ombori, H&M is paving a new path for the fashion world. Already vested in creating an omnichannel retail experience, Ombori and H&M are now propelling the future of retail sustainability. They are reshaping an industry, not only to accommodate the shifting trends of new generations, but to promote a more sustainable future for our youth. The momentum for sustainable practices already exists among millennials and Gen Z shoppers; now, it's up to companies like H&M and Ombori to respond appropriately and contribute to the vision of a more sustainable industry.

For a long time, it has been difficult, disincentivized, or inconvenient to responsibly dispose of clothing that still has life left in it. Ombori's smart bins are placed in retail settings where customers already visit streamlines the recycling and repurposing process, making it more accessible. The smart bins are also built to reward sustainable behavior, building positive and exciting experiences which customers are glad to be a part of.

H&M Ongoing Commitment to Sustainability

H&M has adopted additional strategies to help promote a sustainable future, and their recent sustainability report summarizes how the company is leading the change to a better future. According to the report, H&M is "committed to Leading the Change to a better fashion future. This starts with improving sustainability performance in our own value chain and demonstrating the resilience of sustainable business. We amplify our positive impact by working with others - showing the potential for innovation and dialogue to speed transformation. Leading the Change is a mindset. It influences everything we do and contributes to achieving our ambition to become fully circular and climate positive, while being a fair and equal company." In 2020, H&M made a positive impact in the following ways:

Joined a global program that explores the implication the shift toward sustainability will have on workers in the value chain.

Explored tech initiatives spreading from digital avatars to virtual fitting rooms - as well as 3D-based design that eliminates waste.

H&M Group's Circular Innovation Lab explored cutting-edge innovations such as carbon-negative materials, which remove more CO2 from the air than they emit. 

H&M Turkey helped more than 400 refugees to earn a living during 2020, while their employers thrived in a more diverse work environment.

Despite the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, H&M advanced its efforts in 2020 by preparing to take responsibility for the true cost of the group's climate impact - by aiming to put a price on emissions.

Took important steps to reduce its own negative impact on biodiversity through, for example, helping farmers improve biodiversity by switching to responsible rattan and organic cotton.

Explored several exciting ventures across its brands, including shifting to a circular future through resell, repair, and rental processes.

Took a big leap by shifting from plastic to paper with a new multi-brand packaging concept for online orders.

Adopted a circular mindset, embracing new ways of designing products and recycling textiles. It also looked at how stores and offices can be constructed and furnished in a more sustainable way - for example, by using textile dust, waste, and old yoghurt pots.

Focused on conserving, reusing, and recycling water. During this past year, 18,219,486 m3 wastewater was recycled - the equivalent of 7,288 Olympic swimming pools - a number of local initiatives in Asia had a positive impact.

To build a more sustainable world of retail, it will take serious commitment on the part of businesses and consumers alike. The demand is here, and H&M is stepping up to the plate. The ongoing dedication of companies such as Ombori to delivering the sustainable and exciting future that customers want is not only the right thing to do; it's also in everyone's best interest.

Lancaster further explains, "H&M Group is leading the way to a circular and renewable fashion industry - this scheme prevents tons of textiles being thrown into landfills every year and allows consumers to play an active role in helping to protect the environment and save natural resources." She continues, "Our aim is to help other retailers set up the IT infrastructures they need to offer this type of scheme in their own stores."

As H&M says, it's time to "be a fashion recycler!"

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