Environmental Horror Stories of Retail

by Chaya Benyamin, Content Manager, Dropit Corporate

June 22, 2022

Let's talk a little bit about sustainability and the retail industry's sometimes shriek-worthy

environmental record.

In recent years, a retail brand’s commitment to sustainable production and business practices has started to take a larger influence in the shopping habits

of consumers worldwide. Over 60% of shoppers, regardless of age or gender, prefer to shop sustainable.

A growing number of apparel leaders are heeding this growing call for retailers to scale back on waste and pollution.

For example, Nike tracks its annual environmental impact as part of staying on course to reach their ambitious emissions and waste reduction goals.

Levis implemented novel finishing techniques in 2020 that helped them conserve water; later, they published them for the benefit of the entire industry.  

But the eco-consciousness that we see springing up in more and more retail businesses is neither the result of a woke consumer

base nor of activist management alone. In fact, the trend for sustainable reform in retail operations was mostly precipitated

by a series of significant and highly publicized environmental faux pas made by household brand names in apparel. 

Let’s review a few of the incidents that made shoppers “SMH” at the entire industry

and insist retailers start reaching for better sustainability. 

1. In 2018 a luxury retailer admitted to destroying nearly $40 million of their own stock. So scandalized was the British public

by the company’s seemingly unabashed wastefulness (the company had said the destruction was part of its price point strategy)

that even members of Parliament expressed shock. Later that year the company amended its policy, promising not to destroy its inventory any longer. 

2. In 2013 a fast fashion retailer found itself in the hot seat for burning 60 million tons of new, unsold clothes.

Later, the company got on the wrong side of the environmental camp again when it was discovered that the brand’s ostensibly eco-friendly

product line contained more damaging synthetics than its regular line.

Since then, the company has made noteworthy strides in waste management - both internally and for the industry - with a large R&D initiative for fabric recycling. 

3. In 2019, a global e-commerce company was the subject of a news investigation where unused, undamaged returns were tracked for their journey back to the supplier.

Shockingly, most of the items never found their way back to a storefront or shelf, but were simply forwarded directly to a shredding station!

The company has since unveiled new programs aimed at reducing waste from returns through liquidation and recycling. 

These are just a few of the skeletons in the exceedingly large closet of the apparel industry.

But fear not - every misstep that’s brought to light also brings with it the opportunity for improving retail from within and creating better,

sustainable production and sales cycles that can safeguard the environment while keeping us fashionable.

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