Sustainability in the spotlight for the retail industry

6 ways NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show reflected the growing influence of sustainability
VP, CSR & Sustainability
February 14, 2022

As I reflect on Retail’s Big Show this year, one of the most exciting things for me was seeing sustainability absolutely everywhere, whether it was while walking the trade show floor, listening to keynote and panel presentations or participating in private group meetings. Here’s six ways the show reflected the importance of sustainability within the industry.

Sustainability is top of mind for CEOs

Walmart’s John Furner was the first of many CEOs to address sustainability concerns. He referenced changing customer concerns, including concerns about climate change and the importance of diversity and inclusion.

NRF 2022 event recap

Take a look at the NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show event recap to learn more about this year’s sessions.

Best Buy CEO Corie Barry highlighted climate and diversity efforts as core to the business. Javier Quiñones, IKEA U.S. CEO, focused his remarks on climate change as a business imperative and described how consumers, employees and investors are responding positively to that approach. Pepsi CEO Steven Williams talked about sustainability concerns along the entire value chains of products from the farm fields to packaging compostability.

Ralph Lauren’s CEO Patrice Louvet declared sustainability a priority for the company and CEO Arvind Krishna talked about IBM’s focus on clean energy and energy efficiency. And, the CEOs of WW (formerly Weight Watchers), Stitch Fix and Old Navy highlighted the full range of business-focused sustainability interests — human health, environmental and social — in separate conversations with CNBC retail reporter Lauren Thomas.

Sustainability and supply chains

More than 95 percent of a retailer’s sustainability footprint lies deep within supply chains and retailers are redesigning entire supply chains to meet consumer demand for sustainable products from sustainable retailers.

Upcoming NRF event

Sustainability and supply chains are so important and interconnected that NRF is hosting the Supply Chain 360 conference in June to cover the topic in greater depth.

Walmart and Rothy’s highlighted the importance of getting supply chains optimized to meet their sustainability and climate goals. Grove Collaborative talked about building and scaling sustainable supply chains and eliminating plastic as ways to engage consumers. Best Buy discussed reverse supply chains and the circular economy and a Ralph Lauren executive declared sustainable supply chain concerns as something that “keeps [him] up at night.”


Diversity, equity and inclusion

Ken Chenault, former CEO and chairman at American Express, inspired the main stage audience with an effort that he and former CEOs from IBM and Merck launched to advance an additional 1 million Black Americans into careers that offer greater opportunities. CEOs from The Vitamin Shoppe and Saks Fifth Avenue and executives from companies like Best Buy, Albertson’s  and Savage X Fenty talked about the additional value their DE&I focus brings to all parts of their businesses.

NRF also spotlighted additional DE&I-focused large and small retailers on the DE&I stage and at the Equality Lounge.

NRF Sustainability Council meeting

Sustainability in retail

Learn more about sustainability in the retail industry and how you can get involved.

After a year of virtual meetings, the NRF Sustainability Council met face mask-to-face mask for the first time. The meeting included sustainability executives from some of the largest retail and restaurant corporations alongside single-store, single-owner businesses. The group discussed common sustainability opportunities and challenges, identified sustainability solutions that succeed at any scale and began establishing informal mentor-mentee relationships to collaborate further.

Expo floor

Sustainability solutions abounded on the Expo floor. Companies like Recurate, a peer-to-peer resale platform, reusable shipping and delivery packaging company Returnity and Ecocart, an ecommerce plugin to make customer orders carbon neutral, shared the trade show floor with dozens of other sustainability-focused solutions providers. Some promised to reduce ecommerce returns by accurately measuring consumer clothing and footwear sizes. Others promoted artificial intelligence, robotics, energy efficiency and route optimization capabilities.

The Javits Center

NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show was held in the newly expanded Javits Center and its new sustainability features became part of the Big Show’s sustainability story. The additional 1.2 million square feet earned a LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. It includes recycled-content and local building materials, onsite solar panels, a “green” roof with native plants and a one-acre produce farm, and improved indoor air quality. It also features advanced water- and energy-efficiency features like storing rainwater for irrigation and escalators that power down when no one is using them.

For more retail sustainability insights, join the NRF Sustainability Council and make plans to join the NRF Supply Chain 360 conference in June. You’ll love it.

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