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Sustainability Spotlight – who's making a real impact?

Kate Bolland, one of our Gen Z team members, shares her thoughts on which retailers and brands are making an impact. As the first generation to grow up with climate change as a defining issue, Gen Z is deeply concerned about the environment and expects companies to prioritise sustainability in their business practices. As such, marketers must understand the values and preferences of Gen Z regarding sustainability to connect with this growing consumer group effectively.


The biggest challenge of our generation has got to be climate change and trying to reverse the damage that has been done, while rethinking and innovating ways to move forward sustainably.

There are many shocking statistics that expose the dark side of shopping:

- Production of new materials has increased by 60% since 1980 (Source)

- More than 82.2 million tons of packaging are thrown out yearly (Source)

- The Fashion Industry accounts for 10% of annual global carbon emissions (Source)

- 11.9 million microfibres are released into wastewater every time we do laundry (Source)

Many companies are pushing the narrative of being sustainable and caring about the environment. Some are genuine, while others are simply capitalising on the growing demand for environmentally friendly products.

The retail industry is fuelled by consumerism, and operating at an unsustainable rate that cannot be supported by the planet’s natural resources.

Fundamentally, retail is bad for the environment, and doing better isn’t easy. However, I want to acknowledge retailers, from all corners of the globe, who I believe are genuinely doing some great for the world. Brands that redefine what it means to be successful and have built a robust business model that delivers value across the triple bottom line.

After searching far and wide here, here are my top 10 stores who are making a real impact with sustainability (in no particular order).

1. Patagonia

A list of stores making a sustainable impact wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Patagonia.

The brand is a benchmark in sustainable clothing, and we have a lot to learn from Patagonia and its impact on the earth, our communities and the industry.

Some of their brilliant initiatives.

  • Patagonia’s self-imposed Earth tax, 1% for the Planet, provides support to environmental nonprofits working to defend air, land and water around the globe

  • Corporate structure giving away 98% of its stocks on a non-profit

  • 100% of electricity in its US facilities is from renewable sources

  • 98% of Patagonia’s product lines use recycled materials

  • The Worn Wear programme, which encourages customers to repair, reuse, and recycle their garments.

Patagonia’s marketing is exceptional, they know exactly who their customers are and are bold enough to take steps to discourage consumerism (see 2011 Black Friday advertisement).

2. Ethique

I am sure many of you are familiar with this Kiwi business that started in the founder, Brianna’s Christchurch kitchen in 2012. Ethique led the charge in plastic-free packaging and essentially, revolutionised the cosmetics industry, with a goal of preventing plastic bottles from being made and disposed of in landfills around the world.

Ethique has sustainability at the heart of everything they do. Their ingredients are cruelty free, vegan, palm oil free, ethically sourced, they pay staff a living wage, are plastic free and donate 2% of sales.


  • As of 2021, Ethique have offset 120% of carbon emissions

  • Powered by renewable energy

  • Have plastic free regional warehouses in AU, USA and UK to service those areas (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for international freight)

  • A tree is planted for every order

3. Walmart – Project Gigaton

Walmart recognised that in the retail sector, most emissions exist in supply chains rather than stores and distribution centres. They launched project Gigaton in 2017 with an aim to eliminate one billion metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gases from the global supply chain by 2030.

Walmart engaged suppliers, along with NGOs and other stakeholders. So far more than 4,500 suppliers have formally signed on, making Project Gigaton one of the largest private sector consortiums for climate action.

They identified Energy, Nature, Waste, Packaging, Product Use and Transportation as the focus because each of these pillars had meaningful opportunities to avoid upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions across different categories.

Walmart is regarding success as a substantial reduction of scope 3 emissions within Walmart's and suppliers' value chains.

4. Ganni

I love the honesty and transparency on their website below.

What are they doing?

  • 90% of the production volume comes from responsible styles where 50% or more of the fabric composition is recycled, lower-impact of organic

  • Installed solar panels with their Portuguese supplier and protecting the local biodiversity of the facilities with a biodiversity consultancy

  • Carbon insetting to reach 50% reduction of total greenhouse gases by 2027

  • Launched re-sale options including peer-to-peer marketplace and having secondhand available in-store

  • 100% of packaging either recycled, reusable or recyclable

  • Committed to elevating female empowerment with 67% women in general leadership functions and 50% women in executive level

  • Using deadstock waste for upcycling projects

  • All products traced from stages 1-4 of the supply chain and a list of all stages 1&2 suppliers can be found on their website

5. Nudie Jeans Co

Swedish denim company doesn’t just sell jeans. Nudie Jeans Co has taken a prominent role in the industry’s work for creating a more sustainable way of running things. Every pair of jeans are made to be worn a lot and come with a promise of free repairs for life. Customers can drop them into a Nudie Jeans Repair Shop, or if there isn’t one nearby, you can order a free DIY repair kit.

During 2022, Nudie Jeans Co repaired 65,386 pairs of jeans -->

They also:

  • Have a reuse range to prolong the life of the cotton fiber

  • Map all emissions and water data from the full supply chain

  • Offset the businesses full emissions through the UN Carbon Offset Platform

  • 98.2% sustainable products

6. Reformation

One of my personal favourites!

Reformation, who started by selling vintage clothing in LA in 2009 and quickly grew to making their own garments with a focus on sustainability.

I really like how Reformation care about their people. They built a factory in LA and create a healthy and fair environment for garment works and all workers in their supply chain. They partner with Fair Labour Association, conduct on-site audits and are committed to ensuring workers have a voice in their organisation.

As well as caring about people, the brand has a massive focus on sustainability. They plan to become carbon positive by 2025, where operations will be a net benefit to the climate. To achieve this they are cutting emissions and using carbon removal projects.

They also:

  • Invest in circular denim, recycled cashmere, closed-loop sneakers

  • Have a ‘RefScale’ which tracks the carbon and water footprint and tells customers the environmental impact of their pieces.

  • Invest in green building infrastructure to minimise waste, water and energy footprints

  • Publish a quaterly sustainability report

  • Recycle or donate textile scraps

  • Have a great benefits package for employees including paid days to volunteer for all employees and Metro passes to their HQ team to encourage use of public transport

7. Rent the Runway

This company was really the start of the start of the clothing rental industry – an innovative and more sustainable way to increase the life of clothing items.

Their business model is an industry disruptor and sets a new standard for sustainable fashion.

Rent the Runway displaces new production (of at least half a million garments over the next five years). They divert 90% of waste from landfill and offset 100% of carbon emissions.

The business has clothes from over 700 designers including garments for events as well as everyday clothing, children's clothing, ski apparel, home décor and accessories.


  • 24% less water, 6% less energy and 3% less emissions on average per garment when renting through Rent the Runway vs purchasing new

  • Production of 1.3 million garments displaced through their rental model

  • 4.1 million garment repairs

  • 1.1 million decommissioned rental products diverted from landfill via resale, donation or recycling.

  • 45% of Senior Leadership from racial and ethnic minorities

8. Maggie Marilyn

NZ fashion brand Maggie Marilyn has a big focus on transparency and sustainability.

They have a collection called ‘Somewhere’ which consists of pieces consciously designed with the ability to be recycled. Their founder stated: ‘If over the years your love for a garment ends, we can take it back and recycle it into something new, allowing materials to be kept within a closed loop system. Also as part of transparency, Somewhere garments are traceable from farm to finished garment.’

They care about staff wellbeing - once when going to pick up an item, I ended up walking in on a team yoga session.

I like how they focus on timeless styles rather than seasonal trends. Maggie Marilyn slows down the shopping process and encourages people to buy consciously and keep these pieces in their wardrobe for a long time.


Swedish home-retail giant IKEA acknowledges they have a big climate footprint, therefore a big responsibility to reduce it.

They have three main commitments: the take-back programme, circular services and investing in sustainable materials. The take-back programme allows customers to return their furniture to be either repurposed or recycled. Customers can rent or buy refurbished furniture which is fantastic.

IKEA has an ambition to be a circular business by 2023 and aim to use only renewable or recycled materials and provide new solutions to prolong the life of products and materials.

They are committed to becoming climate positive by FY30, by reducing more GHG emissions than the IKEA value chain emits – without relying on carbon offsetting!

Great work IKEA 👏

10. Sans Beast

Handbag and accessories company Sans Beast has a strong stance on not contributing to animal exploitation as well as reduce their impact on the earth. They have designed vegan fabrics which have lower environmental impact than using synthetic or bio-based fabrics as well as being cruelty free.


  • 90% of their range is constructed using Global Recycled Standard certified recycled fabric

  • They embrace a slower fashion cycle – with two collections a year that have a small number of styles and many repeat season after season.

  • Merch packaged in bags that are biodegradable, compostable and soluble in hot water

  • They plant a tree for every order

  • Upskilled their team in repairs, so they can fix issues and extend the life of the Sans Beast pieces

  • Joined circular wardrobe business AirRobe so people can easily rent or sell their bags

Nice work to all the sustainable retailers mentioned and everyone who is doing their best to make a real change in terms of sustainability. It is amazing to see the success of brands who have built robust business models that deliver value across the triple bottom line.

Key takeaways for retailers:

  1. Create timeless products, from high-quality sustainable materials that can be recycled at the end of it's lifecycle.

  2. Inspire and reward customers for sustainable behaviour.

  3. Be honest and transparent (no one likes a green-washer).

  4. Embrace slower cycles and smaller collections.

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