Big Retailers Focus on Waste

by | Mar 7, 2013

Waste and energy use reduction are the top facility-related improvements retailers are undertaking to improve their sustainability performance, according to a report released today by the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

The second annual Retail Sustainability Report, which aims to provide a detailed view of the industry’s adoption of sustainability programs, was based on a survey of 35 RILA member retailers, representing more than 65,000 locations and $1 trillion in global revenue, as well as interviews with 10 members companies.

Nearly all surveyed companies have initiatives to reduce waste and increase recycling, the report said. Companies reported recycling at stores not only reduces costs, it engages the store employees — some of the sector’s biggest advocates.

Over the next two years, companies will increasingly focus on green building practices, management of greenhouse gas emissions and water use, the report said.

Companies also will improve and expand upon what they measure in the next two years. Retailers most commonly track facility energy consumption, transportation fuel use and waste volumes. By 2015, 70 percent of companies said they plan to track the 11 key metrics in the survey, including GHG emissions, plastic bag use, water use, social compliance audits, supplier code of conduct compliance, renewable energy generation and chemicals of concern.

Nearly two-thirds of companies report they have full- and part-time staff dedicated to improving sustainability performance. Once a company hires a full-time team to develop strategies and action plans to improve sustainability performance, its number of staff grows, the survey found. Of the retailers with staff, the full-time team grew on average from a little less than three to nearly five people between 2009 and 2012.

The report revealed a number of other trends, including the average minimum payback for a sustainability project, which is two to three years. Top performing companies plan with a longer time frame, looking for paybacks as far out as three to five years, RILA said.

RILA’s first Retail Sustainability Report, which used a case study format, found big box retailers were moving towards smaller stores and distribution centers in their bid to reduce energy use, create transportation efficiencies and support communities. The report released in January 2012 said the trend is for retailers to build smaller, more efficient store on brownfield sites.

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