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Mountain Equipment Co-Op Among Top Green Retailers Worldwide

By Alan Gray

Over the past few decades, with more people caring about the environment we live in, there has been a change in retailing. There were retailers and now there are "green retailers."

A new report published in Canada by Ryerson University's Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity shows that the "green retailers" are engaging in a range of actions to lead environmentally friendly initiatives.

Included in the "green" activities that 15 of the world's top eco-friendly retailers are green power generation and green people power. These activities include generating energy with solar panels and geothermal systems, and engaging "eco ambassadors" to lead environmentally friendly initiatives in their business.

Mountain Equipment Co-op heads the list of leading green Canadian businesses. The Co-op's Toronto store installed solar panels and a geothermal heating system in 2007.

Mountain Equipment Co-op isn't the only Canadian retailer flexing their green credentials. IKEA Canada, Walmart and Home Depot are also on the list of leading Canadian green businesses.

The Ryerson University list of 15 green leaders includes five British companies, LUSH, Marks & Spencer, Alliance Boots, Monsoon and Tesco. France has two in the list, Monoprix and Carrefour, and the U.S., Australia, Ireland, and Japan have one each.

The U.S.has H-E-B, Australia has Woolworth's, Ireland has Musgrave Group and Japan has Aeon.

The two main authors of the report are Wendy Evans, an adjunct professor in Ryerson's Ted Rogers School of Retail Management, and Marion Denney, Evans and Company Consultants Inc.

"We developed the greening retail initiative to assist the retail industry worldwide in adopting more sustainable practices. The report's goal was to demonstrate that by undertaking just a few of these initiatives, being green makes good business sense and lessens our carbon footprint." - Wendy Evans, Ryerson School of Retail Management

The researchers say that Canadian retailers use more than 1.2 billion square feet of space in Canada. In 2006, the Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity reported that retail was responsible for emitting over 40 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year. In addition, it generated six million tonnes of waste.

Explaining the effect of retailers going green, Wendy Evans said, "If just five per cent of retailers and their suppliers reduced their energy consumption by 10 per cent, the estimated energy savings could power every home in Ottawa, which is half a million houses. Greenhouse gas emissions would also be reduced by 1.4 million tonnes, which is equivalent to removing 233,000 cars off the road for one year."

The methodology used by the researchers included reviewed more than 200 green retailers online. They applied 14 criteria to the companies, each criteria reflecting environmental best-practice standards worldwide. That left them with a list of 66 businesses representing a range of merchandise sold, sizes, formats, brands, ownership structures and geographic locations.

Each of those 66 retailers fulfilled the 14 standards, which include having written environmental policies, evaluating the environmental impact of the company and measuring the effects of environmental practices on the company's profits. Fifteen of these retailers were then selected to have their senior executives interviewed and eco-friendly corporate policies studied in more detail.

A number of different frameworks helped these companies to achieve their environmental best practices, but the researchers say there were some common threads:

  1. A deeply held conviction by senior management that the company must reduce its environmental impact
  2. An environmental management structure
  3. Head office and store staff who have environmental responsibilities
  4. A sound environmental plan and strategy

Walmart Canada co-opted staff into their program, and 77,000 staff created 160,000 personal sustainability goals as part of the company's vision to be a green retail leader. At Home Depot, sales associates executed a plan to educate customers on ways to minimize water pollution at home.

The key to being a successful eco-friendly retailer must start from the top. "There has to be a commitment and passion from the CEO or senior management in order to implement sustainable practices. Once you have that in place, you can roll out a long-term plan that will benefit your company - and win you more customers, who are demanding companies be more environmentally responsible," Evans said.

Expertise from a number of other people enabled the report to be completed.

  • Professor Hersch Jacobs, Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University
  • Professor Kernaghan Webb, Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University
  • Professor Leigh Sparks, University of Stirling, Scotland
  • Marc Vilanova, ESADE, Spain and Hitosubashi University, Japan
  • University of Metz, France
  • Retail Council of Canada
  • The Sustainable Retail Consortium, National Retail Federation, U.S
  • Toronto and Region Conservation staff (part of the Greening Retail program)

    The report, Greening Retail: Best Practices of Leading Retailers From Around the World, was funded by Environment Canada and by SmartCentres.

    Click here to download the PDF report including the background, description of the methodology and the full list of leading green retailers

    Alan Gray is the publisher of NewsBlaze, the independent online newspaper for thinking people. Read more stories by Alan Gray.


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