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Walmart and Rothys share insights about environmental sustainability in retail

Walmart and Rothys share insights about environmental sustainability in retail

On Sunday morning at NRF 2022: Retails Big Show, Zach Freeze, senior director, strategic initiatives-sustainability at Walmart, and Saskia van Gendt, head of sustainability at Rothys, discussed the current and future status of environmental sustainability in retail. Scot Case, NRF Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, moderated the discussion which took place on StarWind Stage.

Case opened the session by asking: What is sustainability? There are hundreds of definitions of sustainability. NRF is a collection of activities and initiatives that aim to create net positive community, environmental, and social benefits.

NRF 2022 Retail’s Big Show will be held in New York City on January 16-18, 2018. Check out the event recap.

Three major issues that arise in a discussion about retail sustainability are consumer care, transparency, and externalizing. Case said that every retail transaction is included in this discussion.

Case used that lead-in to ask Freeze how Walmart (a recognized retail industry leader in sustainability) is moving towards its environmental goals. Freeze stated that Walmart is committed towards becoming a zero emission company by 2040. Freeze stated that the importance of addressing climate change is paramount.

Walmart brought in partners such as The Nature Conservancy to help make that commitment a reality. Freeze pointed out that energy consumption was a good place to start because there is so much of it. Also, it helped to define the target.

Walmart’s transportation fleet, representatives of various parts and managers of store operations are among those who will be participating in the discussion. Communication with Walmart’s suppliers is an important part of the program. About 5% of the companys carbon footprint can be attributed to Walmart operations. The remaining 95% comes from its suppliers.

Rothys is, however, a vertically integrated business and is its own supplier. Van Gendt, who took over her position, was focused on reducing Rothys carbon footprint. She also wanted to establish circularity.

We rely on all the parts of the company for carbon waste elimination, van Gendt stated. Rothys had both an internal and an external committee participating in discussions about its sustainability efforts. External advisors were fashion and footwear experts as well as non-governmental organizations.

Customers were also involved. The company was shocked at the reactions of some customers to a recycling program that used out shoes. They said that they are still working with them. They are not ready to go.

The conversation turned to the lessons learned by the panelists in their sustainability efforts towards the end of the session. Van Gendt said that one of Rothys’ lessons was to be aware of its role in the process. She said that if you have control over the supply chain, you can accomplish anything. You can set up on-demand manufacturing to eliminate waste. You are responsible for what you do.

Case asked the panelists to give advice on how they would counsel someone about to take over their job. Given her science background, van Gendt said that she started her career at the Environmental Protection Agency. Next, I would want to know how I could apply my knowledge about sustainability.

Freeze stated that there is a need to innovate. Ask yourself, “What can we do as a company?” You can’t be timid. This is a critical situation. How can we stand out in this situation?

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