Sustainability Programs Are Even More Effective through Partnerships – Environmental Leader

Partners in Sustainability

While there is a lot of talk about manufacturer responsibility in product stewardship, retailers—as the middlemen between manufacturers and consumers—are emerging as a powerful force in environmental stewardship and sustainability. This new level of influence is being intentionally cultivated through strategic partnerships between retailers and manufacturers. Lowe’s and DeWalt, for example, have partnered together to sponsor tool trade-in events that provide both an opportunity and an incentive to recycle outdated power tools.

No organization understands this better than RILA (Retail Industry Leaders Association), the retail industry’s trade association that represents some of the world’s largest and most innovative retail companies. Importantly, RILA helps its members to become sustainability leaders.

Retailers that craft full-spectrum strategies are able to identify trends and track progression. According to Adam Siegel, RILA vice president for sustainability and retail operations, “Retailers that develop long-term strategies for sustainability engage with their communities and suppliers, and partner with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Doing so will ensure that they are pursuing the opportunities with the greatest impact given the resources.”

The increase in voluntary partnerships between retailers and manufacturers who are focused on achieving sustainability goals is proving to be one of the most effective ways to ensure the proper disposal of certain types of solid waste, like e-waste. This is important when you consider the results of a 2012 “Green Guilt” survey commissioned by the non-profit, battery product stewardship organization, Call2Recycle®. The study confirmed that 57% of Americans possess old electronics needing disposal but 44% do not properly dispose of these items because they don’t know how or where to do it.

With more and more retailers serving as drop-off locations for these items, it has become easier for consumers to change behaviors: those who purchase a new tablet may drop also off their old, obsolete netbook at the same time because the retailer also serves as a recycling collection location. As these joint take-back and recycling programs gain traction, they are successfully diverting millions of tons of recyclable materials from landfills.

But that’s not all. There are industry-level shifts occurring as well.

1. Successful partnership programs are inspiring other similar programs.

2. Partnership programs are attracting the attention of industry associations (like RILA), which are studying, measuring and citing these as a source of success.

In March, RILA released its 2013 Retail Sustainability Report, which confirmed that “four out of five retailers intend to engage in nearly all aspects of product supply chain sustainability within the next five years: from product and packaging design (including measuring lifecycle impacts and chemicals of concern) to sourcing, manufacturing (environmental and human rights impacts), transportation, sale, and product use and disposal (take-back options).”

According to the report, “collaboration is becoming imperative for effective sustainability action” and “Managing the full product lifecycle…first requires alignment within the company…and then partnerships with suppliers.”

The report also identifies practices common among the industry’s best-in-class organizations that are focusing on sustainability “by highlighting top-performing companies focused on a wide variety of strategies including but not limited to, voluntary product take-back options.”

These are potent affirmations for organizations that have invested themselves in developing relationships with other like-minded businesses. There are a number of retailer-manufacturer partnerships that are already seeing positive impact on our environment. Some other examples of these include:

The Home Depot and Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. (and other power tool manufacturers), which work together to collect used portable rechargeable batteries.

A partnership between Staples and Hewlett-Packard that provides consumers with free, convenient, in-store recycling options for a wide range of electronic waste—from desktop PCs to tablets and fax machines to digital cameras—regardless the brand or purchase location.

The Best Buy take-back program, which collects products from any manufacturer through in-store recycling kiosks (ink and toner cartridges, rechargeable batteries, and wires, cords and cables) as well as home pickup and haul-away for televisions and appliances. Best Buy has set a goal to recycle a billion pounds of consumer electronics by 2014.

The RILA report also encourages retailers to seek the help of government agencies, NGOs and non-profits, which can “…provide resources and expertise that may not exist within a company.” For not-for-profit organizations like Call2Recycle, the study confirms anecdotal observations and quantitative data captured from our network of more than 200 retailers, manufacturers and more. Since 1996, these partnerships have helped Call2Recycle divert more than 75 million pounds of batteries and cellphones from the solid waste stream.

The best practices documented in the report, according to Siegel, can help retailers grow. “Retailers continue to implement management and operational strategies, strengthening retail businesses and positioning them for long-term success. RILA will continue to track the industry’s progress over time and work with our members to uncover the greatest business value from their efforts.”

These voluntary partnerships have been elevated and recognized as industry best practices, which is especially gratifying when the recognition comes from an organization as respected as RILA. It’s even better knowing that these partnerships are helping ensure environmentally responsible disposal of products and materials that should be recycled and repurposed.

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