RILA: Retail Sustainability is On the Move

By Adam Siegel, RILA Vice President, Sustainability & Retail Operations

Industry Research Outlines Progress in Environmental Sustainability

Retailers are continuing to enhance and accelerate their progress toward sustainability programs. Here at the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) we are working closely with our members and their partners to come up with new ideas, and find unique and effective ways to innovate and forward the industry’s sustainability goals.

With that, RILA and our members were interested to know the landscape of sustainability activities across the industry as well as the major driving trends. Over the last nine months we have conducted a series of research projects that have resulted in some interesting takeaways.

These findings are part of a larger initiative to develop the very first industry-wide Retail Industry Sustainability Report that will be released later this fall. Additionally, RILA will hold its fourth annual Retail Sustainability Conference on October 12-14 in Orlando Florida. Here RILA will continue to build on the themes of this year’s research and other industry trends through various conference sessions and panel discussions.

Designed to highlight sustainability leadership in the retail sector, the industry-wide report will give insight into challenges and the vision for the industry’s future. It aims to provide the broader retail industry with ways to act on sustainability through framing the critical issues, sharing examples of leading practices, and introducing future industry trends.

Additionally, throughout the year RILA has detailed three specific areas of the report and released initial findings to the public. These include the retail landlord-tenant relationship, retailer and product supplier engagement for sustainability, and employee engagement.

The first project was regarding the relationship between landlords and retailers, and took place in June when retailers and landlords came together in Washington, DC at a meeting hosted by RILA. The goal was to find opportunities for collaboration that ultimately drive cost savings and enhanced shopping experiences. The meeting revealed that they share many key building-lifecycle priorities. Those objectives include: construction practices that capitalize on energy efficiency; lease structures designed to promote energy and waste reduction; and operational strategies that continuously improve energy and recycling performance. In the coming months the two groups have set a series of priorities and initiatives around these findings, and will begin to put what they have learned into practice. They also plan to report back with the results of their work.

Our research around engaging suppliers in sustainability was released in August and revealed that the retail industry is spearheading the transition to more transparent, communicative product supply chains. Retailers are constantly looking for opportunities in their product supply chains to cut costs and be more innovative. Further, they want to address the needs of employees, regulators, investors, customers and other stakeholders. This evolving supply chain strategy is rooted in company-wide efforts to be more strategic, proactive and efficient and is changing the relationship between retailers and product suppliers into a more closely knit partnership.

Finally, our employee engagement research determined that retailers view the collective energy of their workforce as one of their most crucial assets in moving the needle on sustainability. The research helped answer some key questions such as: What are the components of a successful program? And how do retailers garner the attention and participation of their employees?

We look forward to the completed industry-wide report which will take a comprehensive look at these issues and the full suite of sustainability activities including: the retail operational footprint, workforce diversity and health and wellness, products & supply chain engagement, and community and philanthropic engagement.

In addition to the research, and to continue to help retailers to grow their sustainability programs and stay ahead of the curve, this year’s Retail Sustainability Conference will focus on the key challenges and opportunities for the retail sustainability community. In addition to covering the key aspects of sustainability and compliance for the retail industry like energy and waste reduction, product and supply chain engagement, we are integrating the leadership skills executives need to succeed: building internal resources, leveraging external resources, communicating, and collaborating.

RILA will start the 2011 conference with an important meeting of the central force behind RILA’s sustainability program, the Retail Sustainability Initiative (RSI), which has made a commitment to driving leadership in retail sustainability. At this year’s conference the group will have a conversation about what it would take to achieve a higher level of supply chain collaboration around waste reduction and efficiencies. The goal being to engage practitioners from companies in a dialogue around a zero waste economy, both by leveraging existing tools and resources, and by innovating.

The following day, Kenneth Bonning, Senior Executive Vice President of Kohl’s Corporation will be kicking off the conference. Bonning will share the Kohl’s “roadmap” to sustainability that ultimately results in cost savings and resource conservation. He will cover sustainable operations, stakeholder engagement and supply chain sustainability.

This year’s conference will also provide attendees with a unique behind-the-scenes look at Universal Orlando Resorts’ sustainability programs in action. Attendees will have the opportunity to further develop values, skills and networks with a four-hour leadership training session led by Darcy Winslow, founder of DSW collective and Sara Schley, Founder of Seed Systems. RILA is also hosting a Certified Hazardous Materials Management (CHMM) course led by Cedric Calhoun, Executive Director of the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals.

Additionally, we have increased the latitude of this year’s conference to align with how executives define sustainability: focusing on both environmental and social issues.  Mary Capozzi, Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility for Best Buy and Nick Aster, Founder and Publisher of, among others, will share their key insights on retail social responsibility and the business benefits of a comprehensive approach to sustainability.

Other sessions include: Building a Toolkit for Social Responsibility; IT Systems to Manager Energy & Environmental Impacts and Opportunities; Leadership Competencies in the Age of Sustainability Concerns; Communicating Green Building Success to Your Customers; and The Next Step in CSR Reports.

Throughout the industry we already see certain retail sustainability trends becoming increasingly mainstream practices. At RILA, we want to continue the momentum for years to come, as such we will remain engaged, facilitate important discussions among our members, and produce valuable educational content as retailers work to make this a reality.

For more information on RSC 2011 or RILA research please visit

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One response

  1. It’s great to see that sustainability is beginning to take hold in the retail industry. These companies utilizing sustainable practices will likely see strong loyalty from their customers in addition to increased profits due to lower energy costs. According to the National Retail Federation, there are over 900,000 buildings in the U.S.; all of which could benefit from the adoption of sustainability. To read more about sustainability in retail visit

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