Target’s 2013 sustainability report says the ultimate definition of a sustainable business means investing in the “ongoing well-being” of its customers, team, shareholders and communities.
Even during a time of growth and challenges, that is the continuing priority, says John Mulligan, interim president and CEO, EVP and chief financial officer. “It’s not about ‘going green.’ It’s about making sure the partnerships we take, the processes we follow and the products we sell are helping us create long-term value that goes beyond Target and into the communities we serve.”
Worthy words indeed. How is Target doing?
— Last year the company introduced the Target Sustainable Product Standard, which was developed over the last 2 years in partnership with industry experts, vendors and NGOs, according to Target. The standard “will help establish a common language, definition and process for qualifying what makes a product more sustainable.” Using GoodGuide’s UL Transparency Platform, Target will collect information from vendors and evaluate a product’s qualities against set criteria. Target also launched Simply Balanced, its “wellness grocery brand” to meet growing demand for more responsibly sourced, wellness-focused food.
— Target began “leveraging” the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index to assess the sustainability of thousands of vendor partner facilities. In 2011, Target became a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a partnership with more than 80 footwear and apparel brands focused on reducing the environmental impact of the industry. “In 2012, we took our partnership a step further through the adoption of The Higg Index, an industry tool that creates a common approach for measuring and evaluating sustainability performance in the supply chain.” So far it has used the index to perform “self-assessments of more than 3,000 facilities that produce Target-sourced owned brand product,” says Scott Lercel, director of social responsibility and sustainability, Target Sourcing Services.
— Clean by Design: In 2012, Target teams – including the Product Design & Development Global team, Fabric Sourcing and Target Sourcing Services Sustainability – joined with the Natural Resources Defense Council in a pilot called Clean by Design, to reduce water, energy and materials in its supply chain by as much as 12 percent. “It took more than a year and a half from the first facility evaluation to the final audit reports,” Ada Suneson, director of technical services for the Product Design & Development Global team. “But the small changes we made added up to some big savings for the company.” Target reported an annual environmental savings of more than 365,000 tons of water, more than 555,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, and an annual cost savings of about $1.5 million.
— LEED certification for Canadian stores – As Target prepared to enter the Canadian market, it affirmed a commitment to achieve LEED certification for all 124 of the stores opening in Canada in 2013. “Other retailers in Canada take a case-by-case approach to LEED, so Target had a unique opportunity to show our commitment to smart development by going big on LEED certification,” says Vanessa Matiski, director of architecture and property development. So far, 28 of the Canada stores have achieved the certification, with the rest scheduled to be certified later this year.
— Target said it has adopted “clear labor and human rights policies that guide our business” with its nearly 3,300 factory vendors. The report says that last year Target focused its audits on factories considered to be at the highest risk for noncompliance with our standards. “As a result, we found more noncompliant factories and more severe violations of our standards than we did in 2012. We terminated our business relationships with the noncompliant factories according to our policy.” In 2014, the company said it is planning to audit factories before production begins. “This will enable us to avoid noncompliant factories and get a head start on any necessary improvements for factories that demonstrate commitment to our standards.” This includes steps to prevent unauthorized subcontracting and “saying no” to conflict minerals. According to Target’s 2012 Corporate Responsibility Report — as described in a Triple Pundit report on worker rights earlier this year — 40 percent of its supplier factories were found to have unacceptable human rights compliance practices, and critical violations were found in 20 percent of the factories. In China alone, working conditions in 50 percent of supplier factories were found unacceptable.
So there appears to be some progress on a number of sustainability fronts at Target, including international worker rights, but at the end of the day, this company is in the business of mass consumerism, which will always make true sustainability a challenge.
Image credit: Target Turns 50, 1962-2012 by Allen via Flickr