While Earth Day parades, marches and festivals get all the attention every year around April 22, retailers and restaurants make every day Earth Day.
Retailers and restaurants are enablers of sustainability. They make it possible for consumers to find and buy the more sustainable products that are highlighted on Earth Day — and they sell them every day.
Want a green T-shirt made from organic cotton with a recycling logo printed on the front? How about a stylish pair of tennis shoes made from recycled materials that can be recycled when they’re no longer useful? Looking for a more energy-efficient television or appliance that saves you money while reducing your carbon footprint? Craving a plant-based burger or a pizza with plant-based toppings? Retailers are happy to sell them to you.
What’s even more exciting than the eco-products consumers buy is what’s going on behind the scenes: The retailer or restaurant might be just as sustainable as the products they sell.
Any list of the most sustainable companies includes retailers and restaurants among the best of the best. In Barron’s latest list of the most sustainable companies, for example, three of the top 10 are retailers (Best Buy, Tiffany & Co. and V.F. Corp).
Which companies make the top of which lists depends, of course, on how one defines ‘sustainable.’ There are hundreds of different definitions of sustainability shared by academics, government officials, activists, investors and consumers. One thing they share is a focus on creating net positive environmental, social and community benefits.
Retailers deliver those benefits in a variety of ways.
Buying renewable energy
According to the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, retailers are among the largest buyers of renewable energy. They include Amazon, Best Buy, Etsy, Gap, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Target and Walmart. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership has a list of the top 30 retailers based on their total renewable energy purchases.
McDonald’s has purchased enough solar power to power 8,000 McDonald’s restaurants. It is even experimenting with a net-zero-energy McDonald’s at Walt Disney World.
Walmart, which is on its way toward powering 100 percent of operations with renewable energy, is also making it easier for its suppliers to buy renewable energy.
It’s not just the largest retailers investing in renewable energy. Privately held regional chains like Boscov’s, which owns 51 stores in the mid-Atlantic, purchase renewable energy and have installed solar panels at 10 of its stores.
Learn more about how the retail industry is evolving for a more environmentally-friendly future.
Engaging suppliers and improving supply chains
Target recently announced plans to spend $2 billion with Black-owned businesses to expand the diversity of its supplier base. Nike, Walmart and Ulta Beauty have made similar pledges.
Companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s are tracing the environmental and social impacts they influence throughout their entire supply chains, working all the way down to the inputs the farmers use to produce the coffee beans or beef, poultry and dairy products they sell.
More than a dozen retailers like Tractor Supply Company, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Dollar Tree, Kohl’s and Stein Mart are recognized as EPA High Performing SmartWay Shippers that have improved the efficiency of their transportation and logistics operations to save money while improving their environmental performance.
Offering more sustainable products
By 2025, Petco plans for half of the products it sells to meet its sustainability goals. Like many other retailers including Sephora and Staples, Petco has a special section of its website to identify more sustainable products. Amazon approved a list of environmental certifications to help its customers identify products with environmental benefits.
Setting climate goals
Amazon and Best Buy are among more than 50 companies that have signed the Climate Pledge, committing to net zero carbon by 2040. As part of the pledge, they have agreed to regularly report efforts to eliminate and mitigate their contributions to climate change.
Etsy recently pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and follow the protocols established by the Science Based Targets Initiative to meet its goal. It joins other retailers like Advanced Auto Parts, Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, Gap, Nordstrom, Target and Walmart that are making science-based commitments and setting specific greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
Investing in energy efficiency
Savvy retailers like BrandsMart USA, with nine retail stores in south Florida and around Atlanta, are leveraging innovative government programs like the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program to save millions in operating costs without investing any capital. They are reducing their energy use while also reducing their contributions to climate change — and they are passing the cost savings to their customers. Improvements to in-store lighting and air conditioning equipment also improve the customer shopping experience and help increase sales.
Retailers always focus on their customers. By encouraging consumers to consider more energy-efficient appliances and electronics, they are also helping customers save money and lower their contributions to climate change. Energy Star has recognized retailers like Best Buy, The Home Depot and Lowe’s for their customer-focused energy-efficiency programs.
However you celebrate Earth Day, don’t forget the retailers and restaurants working behind the scenes to help you make every day Earth Day.