This past week, Ecova’s Sustainability & Carbon team attended Retail Industry Leaders Association’s (RILA) 2012 Retail Sustainability conference. The annual conference brings together the industry’s leading retailers to share best practices for advancing sustainability across products and operations―and with attendees such as Safeway, Walgreens, and Gap, we were in great company.
Many of the retailers attending the conference are leaders in the industry with significant commitments to sustainability. Others are just beginning their sustainability journey. During the event, it was easy to see that regardless of where retailers may be on their path to sustainability, they all face similar internal and external barriers to their efforts. Throughout the three-day event, two things rose to the top as clear themes in the industry:
- Sustainability as a business approach is gaining interest broadly within these firms. Today we are seeing talented individuals from across the company― facilities, product design, human resources, finance, environmental, legal, C-suite― engaged in a common goal of creating long-term value for the company.
- The increasing visibility of sustainability and the continued convergence of sustainability, cost management and corporate values will continue to increase given today’s business and stakeholder environment.
One example of the broad reach of sustainability in these organizations proved to be the high point of the conference. Randy Lewis of Walgreens shared an example of the company’s commitment to community through its extraordinary experience of employing workers with disabilities. Lewis commented that two of its distribution centers are achieving the highest productivity levels with workforces comprised of up to 40% physically or cognitively handicapped workers. Under a motto of “what is ours is yours” Lewis offered an open invitation to all firms to share what Walgreens has learned through this program, underscoring one of the conference themes―collaborative approaches lead to sustainability successes.