In fact, the big-box retailer has included sustainability in its business strategy before sustainable was even a buzzword.
“We absolutely believe there is no end date to the goal of being a sustainable company,” Amanda Nusz, Target Corp.’s senior vice president of corporate responsibility and president of the Target Foundation, told Fairchild Media Group’s editorial director James Fallon during the group’s Sustainability Summit earlier this month. “We have to work tirelessly to identify what the problem is and then think creatively on how we can make progress. We use a design mind-set to embed sustainability into our business, into our products, throughout our operations and experiences. And it’s all in an effort to drive profitable sales and have a positive impact.”
The game plan includes everything from circular design to recycling programs (Target has recycled more than one million used car seats from guests), reusing plastic hangers in stores to selecting materials that help products last longer and incorporating eco-friendly initiatives, such as solar panels and renewable energy, into the company’s operations.
The method seems to be working — at least for Target. While some industry insiders cite increased expenses for their hesitancy to embrace sustainability, Target’s efforts seem to be having the opposite effect. Target logged $1.38 billion in profits during the most recent quarter, while its stock is up about 86 percent year-over-year.
“Stakeholder expectations do continue to rise, especially in light of recent events,” Nusz said. “You have employees and communities and investors increasing their engagement in activism in social and environmental issues. The people that matter most to your brand are saying they care about sustainability and they want to understand where you stand as a brand.”
There’s also the fact that consumers increasingly expect products to be sustainable. The pandemic, Nusz said, only accelerated this trend.
“I can tell you from our tracking of sales, consumers are fueling strong sales and share growth in sustainably-marketed products,” Nusz said. “It’s less about getting them to buy in and more about making sure we’re meeting and exceeding their expectations.”
One way is through safety, something Nusz said is important both during a global health crisis, but also in an effort to adhere to sustainability practices in general. In addition to increased sanitation efforts in stores during the pandemic, Target was able to meet its renewable energy goals amid the era of coronavirus. It was also able to accelerate its sustainable material choice decisions and circular design approach, the executive added.
“People in the space, they understand how interconnected these systems are, in terms of a health pandemic, racial equity and climate change,” Nusz said. “There was a heightened expectation on safety. And when you think about safety, it absolutely is correlated with sustainability and the assortment offering and how you make products, who makes the products and the efficacy and aesthetics of the products.”
Moving forward, Nusz said one of the best practices a company can employ is the notion of sharing information with competitors and brand partners in an effort to enhance sustainable practices. Target, for its part, is working with Walmart Inc. and CVS Pharmacy on the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag. The retailer also works with third-party brands — such as Levi’s, Ulta Beauty, Journelle and Disney, among others — and treats every collaboration as a learning experience.
“Our partners, we see them as part of our team to deliver quality products to our guests that are sustainable,” Nusz said. “We want collaborations to have a bigger impact because we come together. We want to learn from [our partners] and we hope they can learn from us.
“In the apparel industry, we are working in more collective ways,” she continued. “We are working in forums where you have brands coming together saying, ‘we are not going to compete on worker safety, or on worker empowerment, or on climate change. We’re going to come together and differentiate on other aspects of our brand.’ You are seeing more and more brands saying, ‘we cannot do this alone. We will go faster and further together.’
“Sustainability is not about having one more thing to do,” Nusz added. “It’s about further building in sustainability as an imperative, in how we operate, how everybody has a role at Target to deliver value that’s beyond profit, that differentiates us in terms of our business in the impact we can have on people and the planet.”