How Target Can Leapfrog Walmart on Sustainable Products

Target's announcement last week of its first comprehensive, companywide sustainability commitments was treated by the mainstream media like a display of last year's hot toys. It was largely ignored.

Granted, half of Target's announcement focused on well-worn initiatives to increase efficiencies in the company's supply chains. This work will help Target simply catch up on sustainability issues, and hardly merits front-page news.

But the second half of the announcement is much more interesting, and points to commitments that could drive real innovation around the environmental impacts of Target's products. Based on an optimistic reading of the company's announcement, Target may now be positioned to do for sustainable products what it did for well designed, yet affordable, consumer products.

Put simply, the innovations that earned Target the nickname "Tarjay" could now be leveraged in the interests of sustainability.

So what did Target commit to?

  1. To eliminate waste in supply chains and minimize their carbon footprint.
  2. To implement smarter design and better locations for stores to improve their sustainability.
  3. To expand Target's selection of sustainable products that "effectively balance price, performance, and convenience."
  4. To provide "the right information, tools, and incentives" for "guests and team members to easily lead a more sustainable lifestyle."

Commitment No. 1 on eliminating waste and carbon has the most specificity. By 2016, Target says it will:

  • Reduce the percentage of operating waste sent to landfills by 15 percent;
  • Reduce water usage by 10 percent per square foot;
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent per square foot and 20 percent per dollar of retail sales;
  • Earn the Energy Star label from the Environmental Protection Agency for at least 75 percent of buildings;
  • Improve the efficiency of transportation inbound to distribution centers by 15 percent and outbound by 20 percent and support the adoption of cleaner and more fuel-efficient transportation practices.

Next Page: What Target can do to drive innovation in sustainability.