Retail Sustainability: High, Low and Inbetween

Retail Sustainability: High, Low and Inbetween

In a recent interview with Fast Company, Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard offers his thoughts on running an environmentally conscious business and what is on his mind - the "myth of sustainability", an ideal he sees as a path rather than [...]

Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs
  • 15 july 2009

Image credit: Getty Images,

In a recent interview with Fast Company, Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard offers his thoughts on running an environmentally conscious business and what is on his mind – the “myth of sustainability”, an ideal he sees as a path rather than a destination. Though this last statement is bit too zen-like for our tastes, Patagonia does have a number of thoughtful green initiatives in place, particularly their 1% for the Planet project and product life-cycle studies, that can serve as valuable models for other corporations to follow. Chouinard feels that companies need to move away from thinking about saving the planet in terms of philanthropy and adopt the attitude that these are the new costs of doing business.

One company that has sought Chouinard’s advice and is poised to put it into action, is Wal-Mart, which will be announcing its plans to unveil a “sustainability index” for every product sold in its stores. A bold move for the world’s most powerful retailer that can potentially transform the entire retail landscape for both consumers and manufacturers. As Big Money explains:

For the index to work, consumer-goods makers will need to understand the origins of everything they put into their products. Wal-Mart has talked about assessing sustainability in four broad categories: energy and greenhouse gas emissions, materials, natural resources, and “people and communities,” which will attempt to measure social impacts. Right now, most supply chains are opaque: Try tracing a hamburger to a particular cow.

But given the leverage of Wal-Mart alone, not to mention its consortium that includes competitors, Kroger, Costco and Target, along with a number of large manufacturers like Unilever, General Mills and Proctor & Gamble, among others, one suspects that they’ll find a way to develop a methodology. And while this may sound good in theory, if this consortium is in charge of the analysis, isn’t it in their best interests to simply feed the public a bunch of phony results?

For the skeptics out there, the short answer is a resounding yes, but ultimately, Wal-Mart doesn’t want to own the index, but merely get it off the ground. Once underway, the project will most likely be handed off to a non-profit that will receive funding from a combination of retailers and manufacturers. In the interim, the project will led by the University of Arkansas and Arizona State University, which will provide scientific research to support the effort. A number of unnamed academics, environmentalists and government officials have also been invited to take part.

On the other side of the aisle, we were struck by a recent piece in the Atlantic that endeavors to put the streamlined, Scandinavian design of IKEA in its proper place as, according to one EPA endorsed activist, “the least sustainable retailer on the planet.” It’s interesting to note that early on in the article, author Ellen Ruppel Shell makes the point that, “IKEA passes as the anti-Wal-Mart: a company where value and good values coexist,” which in light of the Wal-Mart’s initiatives, raises interesting questions about consumer perception.

Despite IKEA’s outward appearances at being eco-friendly – reusable blue bags, flat-packed trucking and partial use of renewable energy – on larger issues, the opposite might actually be true.

By some measures the world’s third-largest wood consumer, IKEA proudly employs 15 “forestry monitors.” Eight of them work in China and Russia, but illegal logging is widespread in those vast countries, making it impossible to guarantee that all wood is legally harvested. (The company declines to pay a premium to ensure that all timber is legally harvested, citing costs that would be passed along to the consumer.)

And no one can argue that IKEA’s furniture, while aesthetically pleasing and certainly sturdy enough, is designed to be handed down through generations. A function not only of its construction, but perhaps its lack of story as well. A fact that points to our own level of involvement with most of the things we buy.

Of course, no label, no matter how much information it contains, is going to singlehandedly transform our relationship with the objects that clutter our lives, but it’s a good a place as any to start, if only for their ability to make us stop and think. After all, we’re all on a journey, right?

The Atlantic: Buy to Last

The Big Money: Wal-Mart To Become Green Umpire



Turn Any Wearable Into A Mental Health Tracker

Fitness / Sport
Work Today

Amazon Is Experimenting With A 30-Hour Work Week

The online retailer is launching a pilot program that will allow a technical team to work with a considerably shortened schedule

Fitness / Sport Today

How The Rio Olympics Stood For More Than Just Games

PSFK rounds out the Rio Games with our picks for the finest moments beyond sports


Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Work

See All
Retail Today

Mobile Travel App Embraces Cognitive Computing

The Orlando Tourism Board is looking to IBM Watson to provide personalized local recommendations for visitors


Clay Shirky

Creativity, Itp, Nyu, Tech, Education

Automotive Today

Bike-Friendly Apartment Building For Swedish Cyclists

A residential space is being designed for commuters to easily transport goods

Advertising Today

Nike Takes Over An Entire City Block With A Giant Running Track

The Unlimited Stadium is shaped like a 100-meter sole print of the brand's LunarEpic sneaker

Gaming Today

Fortune Cookie Service Brings Bad News To Your Doorstep

To promote their new delivery service Blackbox, the creators of Cards Against Humanity are delivering unfortunate messages in an edible form


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

PSFK Op-Ed august 24, 2016

Why Building Better Offices Is The Key To Employee Engagement

Interaction Designer and Audio-visual Technologist at ESI Design illustrates the value in creating environments filled with surprise and delight

PSFK Labs Today

New Mentorship Ecosystems Benefit All Levels Of An Organization

PSFK’s Future of Work report explores how technology is being leveraged to support cross-team communication

Arts & Culture Today

This Picture Frame Could Be The Lava Lamp For A New Generation

Slow Dance makes real objects appear to move in slow motion

Work Today

Editorial Roundtable: How Will Companies Staff The Workplace Of The Future?

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX examine the ways that a people-first workplace might disrupt the job hiring process

Arts & Culture Today

Airport Mural Puts Passengers In The Clouds

The installation in an Amsterdam terminal lets travelers float through a series of billowing 3D digital shapes

Automotive Today

DevBot Is An Intelligent, Driverless, Electric Car

The unmanned test vehicle from RoboRace is a preview of upcoming AI race models

Augmented / Virtual Reality Today

AR Ski Goggles Make Racing Down The Slopes Even More Immersive

Israeli startup RideOn weaves digital overlays into the thrill of skiing with an unconventional pair of protective eyewear


Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games

Advertising Today

Japan Wants To Make 2020 Olympic Medals From Recycled Electronic Waste

The Tokyo Games could showcase the first-ever gold, silver and bronze awards made from discarded phones and computers

Culture Today

This Small Town Has Become A Hide-and-Seek World Championship Destination

An old abandoned village in Northern Italy has become a massive playground for over one hundred competitive players

Design Today

Garmin’s New Smartwatch Is Challenging The Luxury Market

The brand adds a premium version of its popular multi-sport trainer to its accessories collection

No search results found.