retail watch | Apr 22, 2021 |
With sustainability in focus, Earth Day is big business

Earth Day may not rank up there with Presidents’ Day or Fourth of July on the home furnishings promotional calendar, but that didn’t stop a wide swath of retailers from marking the day with all kinds of proclamations, statements of purpose, promises—and, oh yes, sales too.

Inboxes, webpages and even the occasional actual retail store were full of Earth Day celebrations as retailers are increasingly seizing the opportunity to tell their sustainability stories. It is a rather remarkable turn of events given that until relatively recently, Earth Day, born more than 50 years ago, had withered into an oft-ignored blip on the calendar for most Americans. But the pandemic, increasingly dire climate change news, and the country’s new obsession with health and wellness seems to have propelled the subject back to the forefront. And never let it be said that the retailing community let a good promotional hook go to waste.

Earth Day, first observed in 1970, was created by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as part of a fast-growing wave of environmental action springing up in the wake of the tragic 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill (which created a 800-square-mile oil slick and killed over 10,000 marine animals). Since then, the environmental movement has had its ups and downs—but its embrace by businesses has been a relatively recent development. This year, we have seen more acknowledgment of the event than perhaps ever before.

One of the more high-profile efforts comes from Williams-Sonoma, parent to Pottery Barn, West Elm and its namesake kitchenware brand. In a statement released yesterday, the company said it was setting a Science-Based Target (SBT) for emissions reduction, “including the goal of carbon neutrality in the company’s own operations by 2025.”

“Williams-Sonoma is one of the first in its industry to work with the Science-Based Targets initiative to reduce its emissions in line with climate science,” the statement said. “Aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement, the company has set a SBT that will help keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.”

While the company’s Earth Day message was among the most aggressive, there was widespread support for sustainability and general eco-friendliness across much of the home furnishings retailing industry. Among the more interesting:

  • Room & Board, the national specialty chain that already highlights its domestic sourcing merchandising strategy, focused on its partnership with the Urban Wood Project, which uses reclaimed wood from both abandoned and about-to-be-torn-down buildings as well as felled trees, to be repurposed into everything from credenzas to cutting boards.
  • Anthropologie promoted its sustainable textiles, including vegetable-dyed linen for upholstered products and recycled cotton—while not forgetting that Mother’s Day was coming up soon, in case you wanted to start shopping.
  • Domestic Domestic, an online-only seller, wished its email list a “Happy Earth Day!” while mentioning that its featured products, including bedding and household goods “not only … promote clean air, land and water, they’re also just pretty darn awesome.”
  • 10 Grove, another direct-to-consumer site, offered 15 percent off—the code was LIVEGREEN, of course—for its sustainable bedding. “What makes us sustainable?” it asked in an email. “Well, to be frank, almost everything!”
  • Crate & Barrel offered its “Mindful Home” Earth Day guide across its branded sites, proclaiming that “sustainable is your style” for furniture, textiles and decor accessories.
  • ABC Carpet & Home, the iconic New York store that is perhaps the most cause-related retailer in the business, wished all a happy Earth Day and took the high road in its mission statement: “We strive to tread lightly on our planet—from the production of our products to their impact once they are no longer in use. Together, we can create a lighter footprint with earth-kind processes, materials and manufacturing.”

Other Earth Day greetings came from the likes of MoMA Design Store, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Company Store, Garnet Hill, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, and Ikea, which asked, “How are you celebrating Earth Day?” It goes without saying that furniture and home decor retailers are hoping that celebration included some shopping.

Homepage photo: © Candy1812/Adobe Stock

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Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

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