#NRF2020: Retailers should treat sustainability as an evolution

Despite the talk of a revolution needed to bring sustainable principles and practices into businesses the reality is that retailers need to introduce them on a more evolutionary basis.

Speaking at Retail’s Big Show, organised by the National Retail Federation in New York, Jennifer Gootman, VP of social innovation at West Elm, said: “It’s an evolution and so it’s important for retailers to know it’s not an overnight thing. Our work is always evolving and innovations can start small.”

It has been a gradual process since 2010 for eco-friendly furniture store West Elm to build its sustainable model and this has involved it continually setting new goals. But what has ensured its strategy has been successful is that sustainability is “core to our business and it’s embedded in the organisation”, according to Gootman.

It is a similar situation at Lush where Heather Deeth, manager of ethical buying for Lush in North America, revealed the company’s ethical supply chain requires a lot of work with many suppliers who have to share Lush’s values. Its stance means it now buys 400 different raw materials from around the world.

“We have a relentless push on transparency. It’s not enough to just sign things off, you need to get deeply involved. We try and source direct from origin where possible. If we remove touch-points then there’s more margin for us and for the suppliers,” she said.

Although it is hard work both companies agree that the issue of sustainability is gaining relevance across all age groups. Gootman said: “The Millennials have been more vocal but it’s relevant across the board. If you look at food, with organic coming in a decade ago, then the same thing is happening elsewhere now.”