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Retailers Stepping Up Green Push

Posted by admin on 5/1/13 11:00 PM
Topics: college retail, sustainability

The following excerpt, from the article Retailers stepping up green push, was written by , reporter, and published on Crain's Business. Read the full article to learn how these sustainable investments are benefiting retailers financially over the long term.

These days, retailers are finding that green might be the most flattering trend out there. And while many local businesses have long incorporated sustainability into their corporate DNA, some are taking things a step further.

Companies such as women's clothier Eileen Fisher, furniture seller ABC Home and food maker Greyston Bakery are imbuing their operating practices with ever deeper shades of green. ABC, for example, is sharing the environmental origins of products with shoppers. Eileen Fisher is considering opening an apparel-making factory stateside, and Greyston is installing solar panels to help bake its brownies.

The three companies have also joined the American Sustainable Business Council, a four-year-old national association of more than 165,000 firms that have pledged sustainability and a business approach called "triple bottom line"—people, profit and planet. About 25,000 members are in the New York area, a number that has grown by 15% in the past year, according to David Levine, chief executive and co-founder of the council.

"These aren't just nice things to do," he said. "The reason there's such an uptick [in membership] across the country—and in New York in particular—is because there's a recognition that this has tremendous value for businesses."

Irvington, N.Y.-based Eileen Fisher has been using natural fibers and eco-friendly fabrics for its flowing pants and draped camisoles for a decade, but two years ago it began a giveback program. At its two Green Eileen stores—the second opened this spring—consumers donate used Eileen Fisher garments, which are resold and the profits given to women's charities. The shops host monthly workshops that teach shoppers to make new clothing from old.

The clothier is also making a new hire to spearhead an effort to support sustainability in its supply chain. Though most of its apparel is made in China, as is the case with the majority of clothiers, Eileen Fisher manufactures 20% domestically between New York and Los Angeles and might open its own local factory.

"We really want to know what goes into our product and who makes our product at all levels, starting from the seed all the way to when it arrives in our distribution center," said Amy Hall, director of social consciousness at Eileen Fisher. "We want to be able to tell the stories about the communities and workers impacted."

Eco-friendly initiatives seem to be paying off. Last year, Eileen Fisher generated $360 million in revenue, a 15% rise over 2011, Ms. Hall said.

Founded on Buddhist principles, Greyston, a Yonkers bakery that left the Bronx about 20 years ago, is striving to reduce its power consumption. The company, which bakes the brownies in Ben & Jerry's ice cream and began selling cookies at Whole Foods last year, installed solar panels on its roof this month, using $50,000 in grants from Green Mountain Energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Though the panels won't generate enough energy to run the entire bakery, they will save at least 5% on electricity costs, said Chief Executive Mike Brady. Also, last year, Greyston, which reports more than $10 million in annual sales, switched to all recyclable packaging.

In addition to its environmental initiatives, the company, through its nonprofit owner, the Greyston Foundation, is focused on the community. It hires without background checks or interviews, and provides low-income housing for employees.

Flatiron-district-based ABC Home has a similar focus on its employees. The furniture seller is looking at setting a new floor of $12 an hour—what advocates call a "living wage"—for its 281 staffers.

"We've been working on that for many years, but the recession happened and slowed us down," said founder and Chief Executive Paulette Cole. Though the company's flagship store already has one eatery—ABC Kitchen—dedicated to local sustainable foods, it's adding two more this year, as well as an area for cooking classes. ABC also began partnering with the Council of Fashion Designers of America last year on eco-conscious clothing.


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