Case Study

Inside Treadler’s Effort to Future-Proof the Fashion Industry

An H&M Group business, Treadler connects brands with manufacturing facilities that are using the Higg Index to reduce their environmental impacts.

Through its unique business model, Treadler gives its client brands access to H&M Group’s global supply chain, connecting fashion brands with manufacturing facilities with a proven track record in sustainability. As a suite of tools for the standardized measurement of supply chain impact, the Higg Index plays an essential role in enabling Treadler to accurately evaluate the environmental performance of its facility partners. And by helping these brands prioritize sustainability and set goals for lower environmental impact, Treadler is contributing to accelerating the transition to a more sustainable fashion industry.

Building on a History of Sustainable Investment
A founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, H&M Group has been making investments in sustainability programs for over 20 years. Based on trends in the industry, H&M Group saw an opportunity to share access to its resources in order to support growing businesses and encourage industry-wide change. 

“Prioritizing sustainability requires a lot of investment,” says Hanna Hallin, Treadler Global Sustainability Manager. “A lot of brands and buyers don’t always have the financial capacity to help factories invest in climate-neutral programs and transparent wage management systems and initiatives.” 

Treadler logo

Treadler launched in 2020 to fill this gap. Treadler’s clients benefit from H&M Group’s expertise and its long-term partnerships with suppliers that approach sustainability strategically, supported by the locally-based sustainability teams. Access to these resources is helping brands to overcome some of the initial barriers that businesses commonly face as they try to scale responsibly and achieve sustainable growth.

However, for the initiative to be effective, it was essential that Treadler had a consistent way of measuring the environmental impact of each facility and manufacturer. By choosing to work exclusively with factories that use the Higg Index, Treadler was able to gain end-to-end visibility into the performance of supply chain partners. Available on the Higg technology platform, the Higg Index tools score and compare a company or product’s overall sustainability impact. Its comprehensive assessments measure performance across impact areas including greenhouse gas emissions, waste, water usage, chemicals management, and working conditions. 

Employee in clothing factory
Treadler Supplier Factory

A Common Framework for Improvement
Traditional audits provide a snapshot of conditions in a factory for a “moment in time,” and critical safety and environmental measures can go undetected because they don’t take into account continuous improvements. Instead, such audits tend to increase the workload for factory employees who need to accommodate auditors reviewing the same metrics for different brands, which can ultimately lead to what is commonly known in the industry as audit fatigue.  

The Higg Index social and environmental assessments, in contrast, are intended to be completed annually and help facilities focus on continuous sustainability improvement. The Higg Index enables suppliers to take ownership of their progress and performance. And brands are encouraged to collaborate with their facilities to address sustainability challenges together. Through SAC-approved independent third parties, Treadler verifies each facility’s self-assessment to help alleviate facility audit fatigue and provide its brand clients trusted year over year data comparability and transparency, via the Higg technology platform. 

“Using the Higg Index enables us to incentivize and reward factories that showcase continuous progress and improvements. We have full visibility into their performance as well as challenges they face. Rather than just receiving updates on a superficial level, our suppliers and brand clients can see progress towards collective goals and be part of that journey together.”
- Hanna Hallin, Global Sustainability Manager
Hannah Hallin of H&M

Driving Measurable Progress
Analysis of Treadler’s Higg performance data shows their approach is making a difference. The facilities Treadler works with outperform average facilities that use the Higg Index. Treadler’s manufacturing partners are reporting higher than average environmental sustainability scores and showing greater improvements year over year than average Higg facilities. Treadler’s suppliers also outperform the fashion industry’s environmental benchmarks in five of the seven environmental categories that the Higg facility environmental assessment measures.

The facilities Treadler works with score better than average Higg facilities in overall environmental management, energy use and GHG emissions, water use, wastewater, and chemical management. Using Higg’s analytics services, Treadler can easily identify facility performance by country and supply chain tier and take a closer look at improvement opportunities.

“By using the Higg Index and Higg technology, we can shortlist factories that are best meeting client requirements,” says Hallin. Later this year, Treadler will provide its clients reports that outline a factory’s compliance to each client’s own code of conduct while demonstrating the facility’s ambition to move beyond compliance. Clients will gain visibility into a factory’s progress and have the opportunity to set a sourcing strategy that helps advance sustainability performance.

Soon, Treadler plans to introduce dashboards that feature verified Higg data, so that clients can see opportunities to improve their environmental footprint and track progress towards goals. Treadler envisions that these dashboards will help its clients better consider their manufacturing impacts as they place orders and select the volume of product they need. Such information about the sustainability performance of certain products would help brands make even more informed decisions driven by rich sustainability data.

Higg Facility Environmental Module measures:
  • Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Water Use & Wastewater
  • Emissions to Air
  • Waste Management
  • Chemical Management

Ultimately, Treadler wants to enable its clients to reach their sustainability goals, and to support them in setting ambitious sustainability goals that benefit the entire industry. “We can provide our clients with trusted and comparable data, and we can transparently show how they benefit from the investments H&M Group makes through delivery of our services,” says Hallin.

Clothing in a studio
Treadler Collection

Expanding Partnerships to Stay Ahead of the Curve
Hallin is seeing the tides in the apparel industry begin to turn. She is hopeful the industry’s historical silos are breaking down and becoming more transparent, encouraging collaboration. “The world of fashion is changing faster than ever before,” she says. “Customers demand more; communities expect more; and our planet needs more attention. Brands have new competitors, ever-changing technology, societies in flux, and global crises to navigate. To stay relevant and resilient, and to lead our industry towards a sustainable future, fashion needs to change.”

By 2030, H&M Group, Treadler’s parent organization, aims to achieve a climate-neutral supply chain and to use only sustainably sourced or recycled materials for its products. It is focused on innovation within sustainable processes and techniques to reduce dependencies on natural resources. Through its extensive circular strategy, the H&M Group plans to scale innovative and recycled materials and through Treadler they become accessible for other brands too.

The Higg Index is essential to H&M Group’s own environmental goals, and to Treadler’s mission of sharing these lessons with other brands. It is only through the use of a common, comparable, and comprehensive measurement framework that they’re able to approach sustainability strategically in so many different dimensions.

“We want to make sustainable fashion available to everyone,” says Hallin. “By partnering with brands that share our values, we accelerate the sustainable change needed in our industry, creating a win-win-win-win for our clients, suppliers, end-consumers, and H&M Group, as well as the industry at large.” 

For more on how Treadler is using Higg, listen to Ecotextile Talks: How Higg data helps the H&M Group.

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