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Brands Leaning Into Sustainability On Earth Day 2020 Despite Current Challenges

Contributor: Kaleigh Moore

This year, Earth Day isn't the focus for retailers is has been in years past.


This year, Earth Day isn't quite the same for most retailers. 


In fact, many are reconsidering their sustainability-focused initiatives as they prioritize more pressing issues—like how to keep their operations afloat amid store closures and major decreases in sales.


And with daily news of retail brands announcing layoffs and furloughed employees, the reality is that for most, earth-friendly efforts are taking a backseat this year.


However, there are a few brands across the retail industry that are going the other direction: They’re actually leaning into sustainability efforts on Earth Day in 2020. 


I spoke with a few experts and companies to hear how (and why) they’re continuing sustainability initiatives despite the current challenges imposed by the coronavirus crisis.


Clothing 


If you ask sustainable apparel expert Kohl Crecelius of Known Supply how the current crisis is impacting the clothing vertical, he believes that in some ways, it’s bringing to light important decisions that will need to be made moving forward. 


“Brands and shoppers alike are now thinking about what kind of future they want to create moving forward,” he said.


As a result, Crecelius believes pressure is mounting for brands as they work to figure out both how they will survive the current economic conditions and how they’ll rise to meet the continued sustainability improvements modern consumers demand.


Byron Bay-based apparel brand Thrills is one brand managing to figure out both sides of this equation.



Even though the doors of its four physical retail stores are temporarily closed, they’ve decided to lean into their sustainability efforts and are focusing on driving sales through the online portion of their business.


On the sustainability side, they recently announced a decision to switch to 100% organic cotton for their denim products, which is the latest addition to the company’s existing roster of sustainable fabrics that includes hemp, linen, recycled cotton, and ramie.


This shift to organic cotton increases the brand’s cost per garment between 5-10%, but the internal leadership team agreed the company should absorb those costs, as it’s a responsible choice that more fully aligns with the brand’s mission and ethos. 


“This was an investment we were willing to make due to its massive environmental and human advantages,” said Mike Fishwick, Design Manager at Thrills.


“We will come through the other side of this pandemic and our position on sustainable practices will remain at the forefront of our design process.”

Beauty 


Right now the doors of Lena Rose Beauty, Chicago’s first green beauty salon and spa, remain closed. But that hasn’t stopped founder Jenny Duranski’s devotion to sustainable practices and advocating for more eco-friendly practices across the beauty industry as a whole.


“I’ve seen firsthand the amount of waste the spa and wellness industry produces—it’s essentially the equivalent of fast fashion,” she said. As a result, Duranski has pledged her business will be 100% plastic-free by 2025—and she encourages others to do the same.


Sustainability efforts in the beauty industry are happening, albeit at a varied pace and scale. Select direct-to-consumer brands are finding creative ways to do their parts. 


For example: Sasha Plavsic, founder of ILIA Beauty, has implemented a recycling program in partnership with TerraCycle that allows customers to mail in (with a prepaid label) the packaging for up to five empty beauty products from any brand so they can be recycled. 


“It’s one thing to create something sustainable out of better materials, but we believe it’s even more important to keep product packaging in the recycling equation once you are finished using it,” Plavsic said.


Even with the constraints imposed on the business by the pandemic, ILIA is moving full speed ahead with its sustainability efforts and continues to source new eco-friendly materials for future packaging—and hopes that others will do the same.


Home goods


As consumers spend more time at home, they’re now taking a harder look at the furnishings inside and outside their living spaces. 


Yardbird co-founder Jay Dillon sees this as an opportunity to present more responsible options to consumers—on Earth Day and year-round. 



“With COVID-19 going on, we’ve seen our online sales shoot up nation-wide as people make home improvements. We want our customers to feel good about the purchasing decisions they’re making right now,” he said. 


To enable this, Yardbird manufactures products from recycled materials and partners with CarbonFund.org to offset 100% of its carbon footprint from shipping, employee commuting, and energy costs. 


As of this month, they’ve repurposed over 100,000 pounds of intercepted ocean plastic. Additionally, they offer a recycling program for any of its products that customers eventually want to retire.


On Earth Day 2020, these are just a few examples of retailers finding ways to keep sustainability initiatives front and center amid the challenging present circumstances. As brands across verticals navigate the coming weeks (or months), let’s hope the conversation on a more responsible future continues.