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Retailers serving sustainability-minded shoppers

February 10, 2020

Established and up-and-coming brands alike are weaving sustainability into the fabric of the retail industry — apparel retailers literally so, by means of garments made from recycled, organic and other eco-conscious materials.

H&M’s Conscious Collection, for one, features garments engineered to lessen environmental impact. The retailer uses such materials as Piñatex, a leather alternative made from the fibers of pineapple leaves. Newcomer Ministry of Supply offers an Aero Zero line of carbon-neutral shirts for men and women.

Sustainability is gaining momentum across almost every retail category, including fashion, cosmetics, food and home furnishings. “People, now more than ever, are conscious of the changing environment and the importance of sustainability,” said Donald DeWoody, a principal and managing director in the West Palm Beach, Fla., office of Avison Young. That awareness spans how products are made to packaging, stores and community involvement. “It is an overall concept that permeates beyond the four walls of a store, penetrating the industries they represent and the communities in which they operate.”

Some retailers have been embracing sustainability practices for years. Levi’s introduced its WaterLess jeans collection, which reduced the amount of water consumption in its manufacturing processes significantly, about a decade ago. The brand has continued to innovate with such products as jeans made from a blend of organic cotton and hemp from rain-fed crops (no irrigation used).

“(Retailers) are all trying to do their part. it’s just a matter of how far they are going”

The retailers touting sustainability now run the gamut, from such established names as Lululemon, Nike and Walmart to online retailers that are moving into brick-and-mortar. “They are all trying to do their part. It’s just a matter of how far they are going,” said Frank Greco, a Savills managing director based in Rutherford, N.J.

But the subset of retailers that put sustainability at their core is growing. “You certainly have those retailers where sustainability is in their DNA,” said Jeff Bedell, vice president of sustainability at Macerich.


Can tenants and landlords collaborate on sustainability?

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With some retailers, sustainability practices are motivated by the customers, shareholders and investors. Government regulations in certain areas are prompting changes, too. Shoppers are understandably a major force in all this. “Customers care more about the social practices in general of the brands they are choosing,” said Bedell. “They are seeking out retailers and destinations that have shared values.” Nearly 70 percent of the 1,000 U.S. consumers in the CGS (Computer Generated Solutions) 2019 Retail and Sustainability Survey said sustainability is at least somewhat important to them in their purchases. Forty-seven percent said they are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

Landlords are taking sustainability steps in their own right, but they do not control all the space they own. In those areas Macerich controls at its shopping centers, the firm has managed to reduce the carbon footprint by some 30 percent over the past five years through waste and energy management. Still, the tenants occupy and control about 85 percent of the square footage at most Macerich centers. “It is absolutely critical that we all work together to find ways to collaborate with retailers to truly make our centers sustainable,” Bedell said. “The only way we can get over that goal line and make a center truly sustainable is to have that partnership.”


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Sustainable retailers to watch

This San Francisco–based shoe company uses sustainable products like merino wool and eucalyptus in place of the typical shoe materials: leather, or rubber and similar synthetics. Tim Brown, a former professional New Zealand soccer player, and Joey Zwillinger, a clean-tech engineer, co-founded the startup. Allbirds sells shoes online, in seven stores in the U.S. and in seven stores abroad.

Amour Vert
The name of this apparel brand means “green love” in French. The company works with mills to develop signature fabrics that are both durable and environmentally sustainable. One fabric is made from sustainably harvested beechwood fibers that are pesticide-free and biodegradable. For every purchase a shopper makes of an Amour Vert tee, the company plants a tree in North America, in concert with American Forests. Amour Vert operates nine stores — in California and in Atlanta, New York City and Seattle, plus one pop-up in Carlsbad, Calif. It is eyeing locations for additional stores in Austin, Texas; Chicago; Denver; Portland, Ore.; and Washington, D.C.

This women’s apparel and bridal-wear retailer makes sustainable products and strives to reduce water and energy use. It also tries to replace or offset those resources it does use. The concept was founded in 2009 and now operates 18 stores in Southern California and in Boston; Chicago; New York City; and Washington, D.C., as well as in Toronto and London.

By Beth Mattson-Teig

Contributor, Shopping Centers Today

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