Climate Week NYC Brings Retail’s Contributions to Light

How the retail industry is addressing climate change is a big question this week at Climate Week NYC in New York.
warehouse worker

The event, which brings in people from many industries, precedes the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, where businesses, leaders and countries will promise to make changes and pledge climate change goals. The retail industry is inevitably part of the conversation as one of the world’s largest industries, employing 32 million workers and contributing $3.9 trillion to the U.S. economy.

Already, the industry has made changes to reduce carbon emissions, according to the National Retail Federation, which laid out how retailers are making efforts to improve climate change on Monday in a blog post. There are roughly 4.2 million retail and restaurant businesses, which means it’s impossible to know how every business is making good on climate change pledges. However, there are ways to look at how the industry is doing as a whole--and where the top efforts remain.

Here are some of the top initiatives by retailers, according to NRF:

  • Improving energy efficiency at store operations. Reducing energy consumption; installing efficient lighting and refrigeration; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning can all reduce contributions to climate change. Other businesses may buy renewable energy or invest in electric vehicles.
  • Working with suppliers and logistics companies to report and improve climate and sustainability performance. More than 90% of retail and restaurant climate impacts come from the supply chain and how products are made and transported.
  • Making it easier for customers to buy sustainable products.
  • Reporting progress. More retailers--about three-quarters--provide information on their sustainability efforts on their company websites, with half addressing climate change activities. Another 60% provide publicly available information and reports for investors and customers. 

As more customers and individuals focus on improving their climate change footprint, retailers need to keep up. However, customers often have to rely on their own research to fully understand a retailer’s environmental impact. Plus, retailers and restaurants are limited to what they can afford when it comes to climate change improvements. There are also different solutions across the sectors within the industry.

“The solutions that retailers adopt reflect the full diversity of the industry and are as distinctive as the individual businesses and business owners,” wrote Scot Case, NRF’s vice president of CSR and sustainability. “There are no one-size-fits-all solutions.”