Retailers face major challenges when it comes to sustainability. They source products made all over the world. They use lots of energy to keep stores well lit and comfortable. They sells products that could one day end up in landfills.
But a new report from the Retail Industry Leaders Association  says many retailers are taking bold steps to reduce their environmental footprints. It looks at some of the green trends and points to some success stories. While the report drew its findings from interviews with 20 major retailers – from IKEA to PetSmart – these practices are likely to affect smaller retailers as well.
Here’s a look at four trends:
1. Looking closer at supply chains. More retailers are evaluating the sustainability of their suppliers, including energy use, hazardous material, greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Some even require manufacturers to produce an annual report, so they can better gauge their total environmental footprint and be more transparent with their customers. Many big retailers are relying on third-party organizations, including The Sustainability Consortium  and the Fair Factories Clearinghouse , to help them conduct supplier reviews.
2. Focusing on end of life. Some retailers are getting more active in help consumers responsibly dispose of their products — and that’s because if they don’t, it’s very likely the items will end up in landfills. Target Corp. offers recycling centers in its stores for plastic bags and aluminum, among other materials. The Gap in 2010 collected 360,000 units of denim to be repurposed into home insulation.
3. Educating consumers. Retailers have to be careful not to inundate consumers with sustainability information – especially in stores. But they’re finding ways to make it more engaging and transparent. WalMart’s Love, Earth Jewelry collection , for instance, allows people to trace their jewelry’s journey “from mine to market.” Whole Foods and IKEA created their own green labels.
4. Engaging employees. Retailers are actively asking their employees to help them lower their environmental footprint – and that’s tough: Retailers tend to have high turnover rates, which means employees don’t feel quite as engaged in the business. But some have been quite successful. Some, like Walgreen, are forming green teams of employees passionate about sustainability or hosting volunteer drives to help with local environmental nonprofit efforts.
What other sustainability measures are you seeing among retailers?
Footprint Photo  via Shutterstock