Retail brands around the world are watched under a microscope. There are certain customer expectations for our favourite brands that we expect them to adhere to. Whether that be taking care of their staff’s wellbeing, giving back to the communities they work in, or with climate change being on everyone’s mind – operating with environmental and humanitarian ethics at the helm.
To find a brand that takes their environmental footprint seriously, that is working towards being carbon neutral, or that takes the time to look beyond profits and stand for giving back; that is a brand this generation want to stand behind. We feel pride in supporting businesses who protect our planet, our people; and who ultimately find a strong connection between consumer behaviour and ethical business practises.
We looked into this further, and found there is a refreshing number of big brands that are shifting their focus to thoughtful business practises, and that are making a real commitment to both the environment, and their employees. There are retail brands giving back to those less fortunate, there are fashion brands avoiding plastics, recycling their materials, and global brands that are exploring sustainable and genuinely ethical products and services. Even brands sharing profits with their staff!
See a selection of 6 ethical brands below. The first being TOMS, a shoe company whose mission has always been ‘using business to improve lives’; and 13 years in – they’re still sticking to exactly that!
Founder, Blake Mycoskie started TOMS in 2006 from his one-bedroom apartment in Venice, California with one key mission – to help those who needed it: “After selling 10,000 pairs of shoes, Blake Mycoskie recruited some friends, some family, and hopped on a plane to Argentina. There, they distributed 10,000 shoes - one for one - to kids in need, wherever they could be found.” And that model has continued ever since.
Now 13 years on, TOMS have given away more than 95+ million shoes to people In need, they have completed 780,000 sight restorations, they have committed to 722,000+ weeks of safe water, they have committed $6.5 million in impact grants, and now have 205 giving partners.
“This team has developed relationships with over 200 non-governmental and humanitarian organizations in 80 countries worldwide. We call these organizations our Giving Partners, and they are critical to the way that we give.” (Global Impact report 2019)
When it comes to giving back, TOMS are a brilliant example of how it can be done. They estimate they’ve positively impacted the lives of 100,000,000 people since the business began in 2006; And that number rises as the brand rises. They release annual impact reports so we can all see the work they’re committed to, and when it’s combined with fashionable shoe design – retail and humanitarian ethics can go hand in hand. They even have a vegan shoe collection!
A brand that stands for a whole lot more than just their world-famous meatballs, IKEA are a Swedish retail powerhouse committed to environmental ethics; and not just when considering the materials they use. While they do focus on ethically sourced wood, wool and recycled plastic, their ethos surrounding sustainable practises is surrounding Ingvar Kamprad’s opinion: ‘No method is more effective than the good example.’ And their commitment to this statement is showing!
IKEA have a ‘sustainable everyday’ campaign where they share advice and information on key environmental topics like solar and LED lighting at home, using less water, delicious plant-based foods (hello, veggie hotdogs!), and more – both online and in their stores.
They also create kitchen fronts made from recycled plastic bottles, and they’re striving towards using 100% renewable energy, with a goal of no longer using single-use plastic by the end of 2020.
To see such a big brand put the environment front and centre for all their business output, that is a massive sign of positively for the retail sector globally. It is possible to use ethically sourced materials, to give back, and to leave a positive mark on our environment.
Let’s hope the example IKEA set is one that other big retail giants implement!
Another Scandinavian brand putting the environment first, are Finland based energy power-house, Fortum. Their environmental ethics are embodied by their slogan, ‘driving the change for a cleaner world’; and the clean-energy company are still pushing for the reduction of global CO2 emissions, decades after setting that as Fortum DNA.
Fortum’s carbon exposure is already one of the ‘lowest within the European power generation industry’, and they have made it their goal to reshape the energy system and provide smart solutions globally.
Their investment in CO2-free production has increased by more than €100Million, and by the end of 2019 they had improved their cumulative energy efficiency of their productions by 1,707 GWh/a compared to 2012.
To top it off, they’re even sharing their financial success with their staff! 41% of their employees have participated in their ‘forShares Employee Share Savings’ programme.
And with operating profits of €1,191Million – that’s more than just pocket change.
The environment is at the heart of everything Lush do, and it influences the decisions they ‘make on a daily basis.’ (LUSH)
They are a high street retailer with a conscience, and have used their sustainable ethics to inspire innovation and to create products that make a ‘positive impact on the planet.’
They invented the first ever solid shampoo bar, all their pots and bottles are recyclable, all their paper is recyclable and compostable, they offer ‘naked’ products with zero packaging, their shipping bags are biodegradable, they use 100% renewable energy and they don’t test on animals.
Plus, they use 100% vegetarian products and 80% vegan products.
Their list of environmental commitments doesn’t end with their product line either. They keep on top of environmental legislation, they welcome new regulations that genuinely reduce their impact, and they support environmental groups that take part in creative action to help change the law.
Power to the people at Lush!
Another sustainability focussed Swedish brand, but this time within the outdoor retail brand category – Fjällräven. This brand really swamped the global market in 2015-2016 when their backpacks were a popular culture smash hit. But the brand stands for a lot more than their globally renowned bags and their iconic arctic fox logo. Putting the environment first is their M.O: “As an outdoor company, we’re acutely aware of this impact and we do our utmost to keep our environmental footprint as small as possible.”
Fjällräven’s materials and production processes have been modified to reduce their water, energy and chemical use; and they even have a slogan, ‘The Fjällräven Way’, which encourages ‘sustainable efforts in almost everything they do’. (umgasmagazine)
Not only do they ban PFCs from their production processes, but they also source ethical animal materials, like down and wool, ‘in a transparent and cruelty-free manner.’
“With the Fjällräven Down promise, we have the best and most transparent down production processes in the sport and outdoor industry,” Kloeters said. “We’re also running a project that is tasked not only with producing 100 percent Swedish wool but also producing wool that is 100 percent traceable. And don’t forget our “Save the Arctic Fox” project to preserve the arctic foxes from extinction.” (umgasmagazine)
BT, a name for many of us in the UK that stands for telecomms and TV broadcasting. But not only is this $15+Bn business rising through the branding ranks within the UK (hello top 100!), their fight to eliminate discrimination within the business are adding to the strength of the BT name.
They have an active scheme to eliminate discrimination within the organisation, and that is for gender equality, religion, LGBTQI+, ‘self-declared ethnic minorities’, and more. Since encouraging this scheme, they have seen the gender pay gap within BT drop to 4.8% (2019) with the national average sitting at 17.3%. They have pushed for people of ‘self-declared ethnic minorities’ to be considered for senior management roles – currently sitting at 10% of their work force, and they’re aiming for an increase to 15% over all. They are also encouraging women to be considered for senior management roles, and now 3 of 12 board members are women, 30% of their leadership team are women, and 35% of their workforce are women in senior management roles. (BT)
A really positive shift to see from such a big brand in the UK; and while there is still a way to go, let’s hope other big players in the telecoms sector learn from the BT example!
It’s refreshing to see these global brands encouraging positive change, and focussing time, energy and resources into policies and services that will not just protect our planet, but also give back to its people. Long may ethical brand practise continue, and long may we see those in positions of power shift the attention to environmental, sustainable and humanitarian output.
But will brands with a conscience become the majority? Only time will tell…