Inside the Sustainability Playbooks for Industry Leaders Walmart and Rothy’s

For many retailers, sustainability is more than a buzzword. These days, it’s essentially a prerequisite for any company looking to win over the increasingly eco-minded consumer.

At a featured session at NRF’s Big Show on Sunday, sustainability leaders from Walmart and Rothy’s discussed their tips for creating and seeing through sustainability goals for a company. While both are vastly different in terms of size and focus — Rothy’s is a sustainable footwear company that launched in 2016 — both offered perspectives regarding how to approach one of the most important business topics of 2022.

In 2020, Walmart announced a new goal to target zero emissions across global operations by 2040. The retailer said it would work with the Walmart Foundation, its philanthropic arm, to achieve this and would aim to restore at least 50 million acres of land and 1 million square miles of ocean in a decade to help combat the effects of climate change.

In 2017, the company rolled out Project Gigaton, a plan to encourage suppliers and other partners to help tackle climate action and collectively avoid 1 billion metric tons, or a gigaton, of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030.

According to Zach Freeze, Walmart’s senior director of sustainability who spoke at the session during NRF’s Big Show, companies that want to make an impact in the realm of sustainability should focus on setting attainable, medium-term targets in order to keep goals as practical as possible.

“We have to get started now,” explained Freeze. The next step, he said, is to explain the goal to team members at all levels, making everything more digestible than one overarching concept.

Rothy’s head of sustainability Saskia van Gendt also spoke about the importance of setting short-term goals as well.

“The problems that we’re talking about are much more urgent,” she said. For Rothy’s, 49.9% of which was just bought up by Alpargatas S.A., the Brazilian company behind Havaianas, sustainability has always been top of mind. The brand announced in March a commitment to reach circular production by 2023. The direct-to-consumer brand is focused on reducing waste in every step of the shoemaking process, launching in 2016 with washable shoes made out of discarded plastic bottles. Rothy’s also offers a $20 incentive to consumers who recycle their shoes.

“We’re working very quickly,” van Gendt said about the company’s sustainability goals. “And then we will continue to evolve beyond that.”

Both van Gendt and Freeze highlighted the importance of tangible recycling programs, which encourage consumers to participate in recycling their products. Programs like these let consumers see first-hand the positive impact they and a company are having on the environment.

But even if consumers don’t see it right away, the goal is to allow more people to discover a company’s sustainability commitments through interactions with a brand or product.

“They may not be looking for sustainability,” Freeze said of some of Walmart’s consumers. “But we want them to be excited when they find out that there is a sustainable action behind it.”

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