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February 05, 2019

Sustainability takes center stage at retail’s big show

Written by Lucy Hartley
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Sustainability was a major theme of the National Retail Federation’s 2019 Big Show, billed as the world’s largest retail conference and expo, with 38,000 people attending.

Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario, speaking at a panel, made news by sounding an alarm about climate change. She said, “The climate crisis — it's not a forecast anymore. It's real. It's happening.” She also discussed how Patagonia, a long-time champion of sustainable development, has increased its efforts to rally around the future of the planet. These actions include:

  • Launching a Vote Our Planet campaign, which encourages people to vote for political leaders who share Patagonia’s commitment to environmental sustainability. As part of the campaign, in 2018, Patagonia closed its offices on Election Day in the United States to encourage like-minded employees to vote.
  • Airing the company’s first-ever television ad, a politically charged call to action for Americans to protect national parks.

Patagonia was the most prominent voice for sustainability at the Big Show, but it was not the only one. In a panel discussion, Amy Hall of Eileen Fisher described how the clothing brand buys back from shoppers worn items (amounting to more than one million apparel pieces bought back in a decade). The buy-back program is part of the company’s program to encourage renewability. As the company says on its website, “Buy quality pieces, wear them as long as possible—and when you’re done with them, pass them on to someone else.”

And SAP Chief Marketing Officer Alicia Tillman used a forum at the Big Show to underscore how focusing on sustainability aligns businesses with consumer expectations.

She said, “We live in a world where, increasingly, people make buying decisions based on how companies use their platforms to effect real change. At the point of sale, if you have a choice between buying something from a company that gives back to the world in some way versus one that doesn’t, the likelihood is significantly higher that potential customers will look to invest with those companies that are giving back.”

Over here in the Europe, this sentiment chimes with commitments made by the H&M group to use 100% sustainable materials by 2030, and recent moves to improve the sustainability of fast fashion by big players such as ASOS, who’ve introduced 100-percent electric vehicles for the final leg of customer deliveries within the London congestion zone.

It is significant that sustainability was a major topic of discussion at such a prominent retail event. It’s also noteworthy that businesses such as Patagonia are demonstrating such a fully realized commitment to sustainability. As we blogged in December, sustainability/ESG is becoming a way of doing business for many companies, not a “check-the-box” tactic to appear more relevant. Why? Because businesses are realizing that sustainability transcends the profit motive and is foundational to survival. A speech to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos delivered by 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg articulated this perfectly.

If your business has rallied around sustainability/ESG, it’s important that you tell your story as Patagonia does. At Investis Digital, we often work with companies to create strategies and marketing/communications programs that communicate their sustainability commitment to investors, customers, and employees. As a next step, we suggest assessing your corporate brand to better understand gaps and opportunities around leveraging your story to drive business impact. Contact us to learn more.

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