RILA report details retailers’ ongoing progress in sustainability

Arlington, Va. -- Sustainability teams in retail companies are growing, and reporting levels are gaining seniority, according to a new survey by the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

The report, RILA’s second Retail Sustainability Report, was done in sponsorship with Ernst & Young, The survey uncovered six significant trends, specifically that:

1. Sustainability teams are growing. Most companies surveyed have full-time sustainability teams. Teams are growing, and reporting levels are gaining seniority.

2. Sustainability investment payback requirements are two- to three years. Most companies act on sustainability investments that expect a two- to three-year payback.

3. Breadth of sustainability activities are increasing. Companies project that the responsibilities of the sustainability function will significantly increase in scope over the next two years.

4. Tracking of sustainability metrics will grow in prevalence. Most retailers measure energy, fuel, material usage, and waste generation. More than 25% more retailers will begin to measure code of conduct compliance, water usage, suppliers audited for social compliance, renewable energy generation and chemicals of concern over the next two years.

5. Three key stakeholders are applying pressure. Pressure for retail sustainability efforts is strongest from employees, competitors and regulators.

6.There are identifiable attributes of top performing companies. Certain concrete attributes contribute to the growth and success of a retail sustainability program.

The report is divided into two sections. The first, Managing Sustainability, outlines the structure of sustainability teams, and companies’ investment, planning, measuring and reporting strategies. The data showed that most respondents have full-time sustainability teams, which have been growing in staff size over the last four years — to keep pace with the growing breadth of responsibilities.

However, despite the growth in staff, sustainability budgets are remaining the same. This staff growth can in part be attributed to the primary benefits that respondents perceive as attributable to their sustainability programs, namely reduced costs, brand enhancement and risk management.

The second part of the report, Implementing Sustainability, discusses operational strategies for buildings and supply chains, as well as stakeholder engagement. Waste and energy reduction are the top facility-related improvements that retailers are undertaking, though managing greenhouse gas emissions and water use and building with green techniques will grow significantly over the next two years.

Supply chain improvements have focused on transportation fuel efficiency, materials, including chemicals of concern and packaging design. Managing all aspects of the product life cycle, from design through use and disposal will become increasingly prevalent practices over the next two years. Transparency remains a key trend: disclosing the social and environmental impacts of product supply chains is a growing practice.

The report can be viewed at Retailsustainability.com.