Sustainability and ESG in Retail: Why ticking a box is no longer enough

How can retailers implement actionable environmental, social governance?

2021 statistics from the ONS revealed that 75% of UK adults are concerned about the impact of climate change1. Those who are worried are three times more likely to have made changes to their lifestyle to try and minimize their carbon footprint. These are numbers that are hard to ignore. For many of us, part of doing our bit means changing our retail and buying habits.

An article from Columbia University Climate School revealed that the average American produces 25% more waste between thanksgiving and new year2; with an additional one million tonnes of waste hitting landfills during the festive season.

Modern consumers want to be buying from retailers they know are taking their sustainability and ESG (environmental, social governance) seriously. It’s not enough to simply provide paper bags at the checkout. Consumers want to see an organisation-wide change that truly makes a difference to the world around us.

How can retailers implement actionable environmental, social governance?


What is ESG?

Environmental, social and governance are a set of standards for businesses. Not only do they look at how businesses impact the environment, but they also examine social hierarchies and structures including the governance of an organisation. This may include diversity and inclusion policies and ensuring truly equal opportunities for all.

Investors want to know exactly where their money is going. ESG helps them to understand how an organisation goes about their business and lets investors know whether they share common values and goals for the future.


Environmental criteria is in place to look at how the operations of an organisation directly impact the environment.


As it hints in the name, social criteria examine how an organisation manages its relationships with its employees, supplies, customers and the social impact it has on the surrounding local communities.


Particularly in light of socio-political movements in the last few years, governance standards have been put in place to keep organisations accountable for things such as diverse leadership and transparent codes of conduct.

How ESG applies to retail

The last few years have seen some serious adaptations made by retailers. And in some cases, it’s been a contentious area.

Are retailers making changes because of pressure from stakeholders or because they truly believe in ESG and the environmental and social impact it has?

Regardless of the reasons for implementing ESG, retailers seem to have recognized their customers’ want for a more ethically conscious, socially diverse, and inclusive industry.

Whatever their motives for making changes, at least changes are happening, right?

More environmentally and socially conscious workforces

49% of Gen Z said a corporation’s personal values will affect their decision to work for them. And while Gen Z only makes up around a third of retail employees, it’s worth organisations thinking about how their ESG (or lack thereof) will impact their ability to make quality hires in future.

If things carry on the way they are, concerns over ESG are only going to grow as the next generations start working. No organisation wants to miss out on top talent because they didn’t read the room on time.

Attitudes towards ESG have become cross-generational; whether you’ve been working for five minutes or five decades. The top end of the millennial generation (around 40 years old) is now making investments where their baby boomer predecessors had previously been dominating the space.

These millennials find themselves in the middle of ‘traditional’ and progressive. We may see that they have a lot of influence over the change in the next few years.


Tackling greenwashing

Greenwashing: organisations use seemingly ‘green’ PR and marketing to persuade customers that their policies and products are environmentally friendly.

Here, we’re focusing on the ‘E’ part of ESG. Particularly in fashion retailers, greenwashing has been the subject of many a news piece and social media controversy in the last decade.

In an investigation carried out in 2020, as many as 40% of firms were found to be putting out potentially misleading environmental claims4.

During an interview with The Guardian5 about greenwashing and fast fashion, Urska Trunk (campaign manager at Changing Markets) commented:

“While brands are quick to capitalize on consumer concern by using sustainability as a marketing ploy, the vast majority of such claims are all style and no substance. While they greenwash their clothing collections, they are simultaneously dragging their feet on embracing truly circular solutions, for example by not making the necessary investments to ensure a future in which clothes can be recycled back into clothes.”

It’s governance and accountability that are going to bring about the change in these large retailers. Without ESG in place, the reputational damage for these retailers could be severe. Some are already starting to feel the fallout from their greenwashed campaigns.


How can Attensi help with sustainability and ESG training?

Getting an entire organisation on board with ESG and sustainability policies is no small task. Thankfully, Attensi has designed gamified simulation training that’s not only designed to be engaging and informative, but also scalable.

Our simulations can be rolled out on an international level and tailored to every team within your organisation. From executives and floor staff to warehouse operatives and manufacturers, make sure everyone is aligned with high-quality learning and development opportunities.

Whether you’re in retail or not, ESG is not something to be ignored. It’s becoming more obvious that these issues matter to the people entering your workforce. Providing training and learning around these issues will only help you to develop a stronger, more socially and environmentally conscious team on an international scale.

For more information on Attensi’s gamified simulation training, book a demo with one of our expert team today:

Are you ready to level up your training?

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  1. Three-quarters of adults in Great Britain worry about climate change,

  2. How Buying Stuff Drives Climate Change,

  3. For Millennials And Gen Zs, Social Issues Are Top Of Mind—Here’s How Organizations Can Drive Meaningful Change,

  4. Global sweep finds 40% of firms’ green claims could be misleading,