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Brown Thomas Arnotts Q&A: The Impact of Sustainability on the Retail Industry

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The Green Awards 2020 recognise Ireland's best sustainability companies and the initiatives they are implementing to create a greener future.

As part of Cpl's upcoming sponsoring of the Sustainability Team of Year, we interviewed the nominees about corporate sustainability and how it is affecting their industries.

We interviewed Dr Dorothy Maxwell, Head of Sustainability at Brown Thomas Arnotts about the importance of sustainable products like fashion and beauty and how they have implemented their sustainability vision.

Over the last few years, the demand for more sustainable products has increased exponentially. Do you find this to be true with your own customer base?

Yes, we know from our customer surveys that over 80% of our customers are influenced by sustainability when purchasing products. In May 2019, we launched The Sustainable Edit which is a collection of beauty, fashion, food, living and Irish products which are certified to third party sustainability credentials. This enables our customers to make more sustainable choices with their fashion, beauty and more. We have over 1000 products on the edit currently, which is growing all the time.

Sustainability is a core aspect of both business and retail. Brown Thomas Arnotts is one of Ireland's most iconic heritage brands, established over 175 years ago. Being a sustainable business ensures we stay relevant with our customers so we can be around for the next 100 years.

Can you give some examples of the greener ways of working you have adopted in your organisation?

'Buy & Sell Responsibly' is one of our sustainability pillars. Buying better, selling high quality, long lasting products and offering customers circular models like resale so they can give their products many lives are examples of this. As mentioned above, The Sustainable Edits have over 1000 products meeting third party certified sustainability credentials.

Another pillar is 'Work Responsibly'. This involves; eliminating single use plastic carrier bags, bottles, cups, wipes and cotton buds across our stores. Also, setting our science-based carbon targets, investing in energy efficient technology like LED lighting, going zero waste to landfill and shifting to verified green electricity across all our stores.

You've been nominated for Sustainability Team of the Year at the 2020 Green Awards. How has your team worked together to make Brown Thomas Arnotts a more sustainable place work?

Our team has a clear understanding of the sustainability priorities of the business and the expertise to come up with innovative ways to achieve these. They have made the business case for our sustainability vision and have changed hearts and minds. They have raised awareness, engagement and delivered action to improve our sustainability performance. They walk the talk with pride and passion.

Has your increased focus on sustainability changed your hiring processes? Are there new specialised roles/functions now needed to drive your sustainability goals?

Yes - Brown Thomas Arnotts made the commitment to hire a permanent and dedicated sustainability team of three. They provide in-house expertise and run the sustainability programme in our organisation. Also, we have over 40 champions across all business functions and stores who have been trained by the EPA supported Green Teams National Programme. All recruits have sustainability training in their induction and ongoing training irrespective of their job functions. Candidates interviewing with us often ask about our sustainability agenda so it's important to have this programme in place.

What 3 pieces of advice would you give companies in the retail industry who are trying to become more sustainable?

Use a trained sustainability professional. Identify your sustainability impacts and priorities and act on them, with a continuous improvement approach in mind. Lastly, never greenwash.

How important are the people you hire and those in leadership in creating a sustainable company?

Our people are one of our key strengths. They need to be engaged and committed to do their part in achieving our sustainability goals. There must be leadership from the top as well as action throughout all levels of the organisation.

We have a Sustainability Leadership Group chaired by our Managing Director which includes all business decision makers to oversee our sustainability programme.

Have you experienced any hesitations from within your business on becoming more sustainable, how have your overcome these?

Sustainability is like change management and hearts and minds need to be engaged. A strong and practical business case is important to make early on if you want to achieve your sustainability goals.

What do you see as the top sustainable working trends for 2020?

Science Based Targets for carbon reduction and eliminating single use plastics.

Within the fashion industry, the Circular Economy will be particularly impactful, altering the way clothes are designed and sold so that they re-enter the economy and do not end up as waste.

Stopping biodiversity loss and ensuring ocean health by eliminating single use plastics will also be imperative.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for sustainable working in the coming years?

Customers' expectations for sustainable solutions are rising. To be a successful business, you must be able to keep the pace with sustainability trends and come up with innovative ways to be a sustainable leader in your industry.

Dr Dorothy Maxwell is the Head of Sustainability at Brown Thomas Arnotts, Ireland's luxury department store. The winner of the Sustainability Team of the Year will be announced at an event on the 25th February.

If you're interested in exploring more sustainability initiatives, download Cpl'sResponsible Business document. For more information on hiring trends or recruitment queriesget in touch,our consultants would be delighted to advise.