Target's Sustainability Push Shakes Up Brand Strategy

Companies everywhere are sharpening their sustainability efforts, well aware that the environment has become a critical issue to younger Americans. But Target’s new “Target Forward” program may be one of the biggest yet.

While addressing significant behind-the-scenes challenges of sourcing, waste, and emissions, it also involves rethinking Target’s intricate owned-brand strategy, building a stronger connection between consumers and better-for-the-planet products.

The Minneapolis-based retailer says it is trying to link all phases to its broader mission: helping all families discover the joy of everyday life. And that includes a commitment to “design and elevate” sustainable brands.

Specific goals include becoming the market leader for “creating and curating inclusive, sustainable brands and experiences” by 2030. Target believes that by 2040, it can make sure that 100% of its owned brand products can be designed for circularity, meaning they’ll be made using materials that are either regenerative, recycled or sourced sustainably.



Target has dozens of private-label brands. And it says it has already designed a number of its owned brands to feature sustainably sourced or recycled materials, putting it ahead of some competitors. Those include cleaning product line Everspring, women's fashion collection Universal Thread, and activewear line All In Motion. Additionally, it says it’s trained some 2,000 team members on circular design principles.

Those goals are especially lofty, given that more than 20% of Target’s sales are from apparel. Fast fashion, sold by Target, Walmart, Zara and H&M, is among the most damaging to the planet.

The Environmental Protection Agency says landfills received 11.3 million tons of textiles in 2018, accounting for 7.7% percent of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. Globally, farming practices associated with cotton and other manufacturing process are among the most toxic. And the industry relies heavily on exploitative labor practices, including employing children.

Target is also linking its sustainability goals to how it treats people, with pledges to increase the number of Black team members by 20% by 2023.

Target’s announcement comes as Americans are increasingly alarmed about climate change and more likely to see sustainability as part of a complex set of problems.

Recent research from GFK, for instance, finds that 53% of U.S. consumers are more concerned about the environment today than they were a year ago. Among younger consumers -- the  18-to-35 demographic Target is most intent on capturing -- that rises to 60%.

And between growing awareness of social inequities and considerable health disparities, people tend to see all these issues as problems companies need to address. Among younger people in the GFK research, 56% say that protests, including Black Lives Matter, inspired them to embrace environmental causes.

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