WASHINGTON — Retail executives on Tuesday unveiled the framework of a major sustainability program aimed at developing ways to reduce the environmental impact of their businesses over the next 15 years.
The program, dubbed “Retail Horizons,” is being led by the Retail Industry Leaders Association and Forum for the Future, a nonprofit global sustainability initiative, and seeks to provide a platform and tool kit for companies to discuss how they will cope with a host of changes that will affect their businesses and their sustainability strategies. Target Corp. and Unilever sponsored the project, which will be launched next week at RILA’s “2014 Sustainability Conference” in Minneapolis.
The project involved 50 retail executives, all members of RILA, who participated in a working group over the past year to develop and identify what they see are possible trends through 2030.
The companies identified 22 trends in six categories, including: technology, demographics, “big data and transparency,” new consumption patterns, resource constraints and economic and political constraints. Among the trends identified were a move toward a more informal “sharing economy,” more-empowered consumers, urbanization, “radical transparency,” the decline of ecosystem services, the scarcity of water and other resources, geopolitical instability and the need to cope with climate change.
The Forum for the Future developed what officials describe as four possible scenarios where the 22 trends could take shape, and analyzed their impact on the businesses. For example, one of the four scenarios is labeled the “Rust Belt Renewal.”
“This is one where there is a lot of global uncertainty, which creates a lot of challenges for the U.S. economy, but it is also one in which there is a real resurgence in local manufacturing and agriculture in the U.S.,” said James Goodman, director of futures for the nonprofit group. “It is a high-cost environment and it is an economy with very, very little waste. From a retail perspective, the real focus is on used items, rentals and long-lasting products and consumers are very thrifty and self-reliant.”
Kate Heiny, senior group manager of sustainability at Target, said the project will be a “powerful” tool for collaboration in the industry and one that will help the company develop sustainability strategies.
“We really see Retail Horizons as a tool, one that will actually help us and the industry to collaborate on innovation and innovation within the supply chain,” Heiny said. “It offers valuable opportunity for collaboration, whether it’s between retailers….or with apparel brands, for example, both on knowledge sharing but also on fueling an innovative approach that is going to help our guests and our team members make more sustainable decisions.”
Heiny said previous partnerships with the forum and “future” scenario discussions helped drive Target to become the founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
“That is an industry group that encompasses about 40 percent of the global apparel and footwear industry by volume and develops tools and resources to drive down our environmental and social impact within those supply chains,” Heiny said.
Todd Troldahl, divisional vice president of packaging and sustainability and green leadership at Sears Holdings Corp., said: “It began with identifying trends that are driving the change in our industry, then building stories of the industry’s potential futures and finally, creating a toolkit to make our findings actionable and to help align the environmental and social impact with the operational excellence of our businesses.
“Not only have we gone down that road and started to apply some of the trends we are looking at here, specifically in such areas as for something as simple as care labels using 100 percent recycled stock.…From a sustainability standpoint, [we are looking to] reduce our usage of materials across the board as well as reduce our carbon footprint by making sure what we are specifying are materials that are available locally and globally,” Troldahl said.