2009 Shop for Sustainability: Top 10 Sustainable Retailers to Support this Holiday Season and Beyond by Will Marre

(Link into retailer’s websites and learn about their social responsibility and sustainability efforts by clicking on the website image.)

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Kohl’s holds the #1 retail spot on EPA’s quarterly rankings of green power purchasers. Throughout 2009, Kohl’s has purchased more than 851 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) in renewable energy credits. This purchase is enough to meet 71 percent of the company’s purchased electricity use, which means that more than 70 percent of Kohl’s energy comes from renewable resources. According to U.S. EPA, Kohl’s green power purchase of more than 850 million kWh is equivalent to avoiding carbon dioxide emissions of nearly 112,000 passenger vehicles per year, or is the equivalent amount of electricity needed to power nearly 85,000 average American homes annually. Kohl’s Cares for Kids® program has raised more than $126 million to support children’s health and education initiatives nationwide.

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Target takes corporate giving to a whole new level. Since 1946, not just since it’s become popular, they have donated 5 percent of their income to support education, social services, volunteerism, and the arts, which now adds up to over 3 million a week. They also have a unique dedication to design that satisfies a need, simplifies life, and as they say, “makes you feel good.”

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Not only does Gap make huge efforts in including their employees in the giving process, work tirelessly to improve factory working conditions and reduce their carbon footprint, have donated millions to Aids relief through (Product)RED™, but they also have programs that are unexpected. Their personal and professional development program called P.A.C.E (Personal Advancement, Career Enhancement), for instance, is designed to help under educated young seamstresses strengthen their literacy, their health, their life skills and business acumen. Every time we buy clothes, we help bring women out of poverty.

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WalMart has made huge strides in every aspect of social responsibility. They donated more than $423 million in 2008 alone to efforts such as feeding the hungry, educating veterans, disaster relief, and providing supplies to teachers. They are well on their way to reaching their environmental goals of 100 percent of their energy use from renewable energy, zero waste, and to sell products that sustain resources and the environment. They also are committed to conserving at least one acre of wildlife habitat for every developed acre of Walmart stores’ current footprint.

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Nike’s social responsibility initiatives are wide ranging from factory working conditions to environmental issues like Nike Grind, where they turn old sports shoes into places to play. Worn-out athletic shoes can live on in something new: a track, a basketball court, a playground.

Nike’s community projects such as the Bowerman Track Program, Homeless Olympics, and empowering adolescent girls in developing nations through the Girl Effect are part of their corporate social responsibility effort as well. The Girl Effect is applying the belief in the power of education to break the cycle of poverty. The greatest impact they have found they can make is in adolescent girls where they expect to unleash a powerful ripple effect and a force for good.

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REI is dedicated to spreading their passion for conservation and recreational access. In 2007, they distributed $3.5 million in support of conservation and recreational access — $1.5 million through the help of their employees identifying local programs for grant consideration. This support will result in more than a quarter million-plus individuals donating 2.1 million hours of volunteer service. They are implementing an array of initiatives from recycling programs to on-site energy generation to achieve their goal of zero-waste-to-landfill by 2020. In 2007, they introduced the ecoSensitive™ label to help identify branded products made from a high percentage of recycled, rapidly renewable and/or organic fibers.

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Apple’s focus is on their products. The MacBook Pro, for instance, features a revolutionary unibody design, which replaces dozens of individual parts with a single piece of recyclable aluminum. Today’s 20-inch iMac uses 55 percent less material than its first-generation, 15-inch predecessor. That’s a material savings of 10,000 metric tons — the equivalent of 7200 Toyota Priuses — for every one million iMac computers sold. As of September 2009, 220 million iPods have been sold and iTunes has sold over 8.5 billion songs. That’s the equivalent of 85 million CDs that would have been made, shipped and someday discarded in overloaded landfills. It’s truly mind-blowing.

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Their sustainability efforts are vast from offering more and more environmentally friendly products (see Staples EcoEasy), extensive recycling (in 2008 they recycled more than 6 million pounds of technology products and more than 22 million cartridges) to purchasing more than 124 million kilowatt–hours of electricity in 2008 in the form of renewable energy certificates from certified sources including wind, biomass, and landfill gas. Staples Foundation for Learning’s mission is to teach, train, and inspire people from all walks of life by providing educational and growth opportunities.

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Best Buy

Best Buy’s @15 Scholarship Program awards 1,000 scholarships to students, and Best Buy Children’s Foundation will give $1 million through the Community Grants Program. They also are working hard to reduce their energy consumption by improving store designs with high efficiency lighting, HVAC systems, etc. In 2009 they  prevented more than 23,000 tons of cardboard and paper, more than 30,000 tons of appliances and more than 14,000 tons of electronics from ending up in land fills around the world.

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Lowes has a vast resume of community projects such as the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, which supports such projects as Toolbox for Education that has donated more than $17.7 million to nearly 4,000 K-12 public schools, benefiting more than 1.5 million school children since 2006, and SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit organization serving teachers and high school and post-secondary students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations. Through Lowe’s Energy Awareness Delivers Savings (LEADS) employees have reduced energy use by more than 301 billion BTUs and water use by 154 million gallons during the first seven months of the 2009 fiscal year as compared to the same period in 2008. Among other things, they are also committed to forest conservation, the Nature Conservancy, and recycling. The Employee Relief Fund exists so Lowe’s employees can help each other in times of need, and Lowe’s matches donations dollar for dollar.