Can Sustainability be More Than a Buzzword?

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Walmart Shares Insights On Environmental Sustainability In Retail

At the NRF’s Big Show that took place on January 16 in New York, Zach Freeze, senior director, strategic initiatives-sustainability at Walmart, and Saskia van Gendt, head of sustainability at Rothy’s, a sustainable footwear company spoke about just that. NRF Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Scot Case moderated the conversation.

Among the major issues that emerge in a conversation of retail sustainability are three big ones: consumer care, transparency and externalizing. Walmart is committed to being a zero emissions company by 2040, Freeze said. 

To help that commitment become a reality, Walmart moved to bring in external partners including The Nature Conservancy to determine what retailers can do to make a difference. An obvious place to start, Freeze shared, was with energy consumption, because there’s a lot of it in this particular industry, and because it serves as a way to define the final goal.

In the discussion to drive Walmart’s sustainability efforts are leaders of the transportation fleet, representatives of the various parts of the supply chain, and store operations managers. Communicating Walmart’s goals and progress to its supplier community is a major ongoing part of the program: about 5% of the company’s carbon footprint is due to Walmart operations themselves; the other 95% comes from its suppliers, said Freeze.

van Gendt focuses on the responsibility of companies towards the cause. “If you own the supply chain, you can do things,” she said. “You can set up for on-demand manufacturing, so as not to leave waste. But when you do that, you own all the responsibility.”

Rothy’s is known for the success of their line of shoes made from thread spun out of recycled single-use plastic water bottles. 

Brands are constantly searching for a way to appeal to the conscious consumer population. Younger consumers are equal parts conscious and vocal about their choices. 

Generation Z is a socially conscious generation that affects their shopping habits and job preferences. Millennials and Gen Zs worldwide are committed to holding themselves and others responsible for society’s most important challenges, according to Deloitte’s 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey.