Talking the social and eco responsibility talk is all the fashion, especially these days, but actually walking the walk is a whole other story. And it’s a story that Williams Sonoma is increasingly not just telling but doing across all its well-known home furnishings nameplates.
The retailer has just released its Annual Impact Report grading itself on its sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) goals and in an exclusive interview, Laura Alber, CEO, said the results are strong and will get even better with its new goals for the balance of the decade.
“Sustainability and environmental issues have become a key differentiator for us, we see it in our sales, we know our customers do realize the impact we’re all making on the environment,” Alber said. “But it’s more than that, it’s the right thing to do.”
Its scorecard shows a number of more-than-passing grades: 65% of the company’s assortment uses responsibly sourced wood, exceeding its own goal of 50% by the end of this year; on its way to planting three million trees by 2023, with more than a million already planted; educating and empowering 100,000 workers within the company’s supply chain by the end of last year, including supporting the HER (Higher Education Readiness) Program; doubling its Fair Trade Premiums goal to $7.2 million paid last, making WSI the first Fair Trade Certified home retailer; and boosting its corporate giving donations to $45 million, doubling its initial goal for last year.
“Everybody here is eyes wide open and if there’s a problem we are working to fix it,” she said, citing the company’s use of materials like sustainable wood and organic cotton. Alber says she believes Sonoma is not just a leader but is also creating a competitive environment where others have to adapt similar programs. “I’m thrilled when anybody else raises their game too.”
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And an extra benefit of these initiatives is also felt inside the company when it comes to hiring and retaining good workers. “It’s not just our customers, but our employees too who want to be associated with this kind of company.”
Alber said Williams Sonoma is far from done. It has already said it is working to be carbon neutral by 2025 — “We put it out there to kind of force ourselves to do this.” And today, as part of the issuance of the annual report it announced a new goal of having 75% of all its products represent one or more of the company’s social and environmental initiatives by 2030. That’s up from 40% today and it represents over $1 billion in product purchases a year, the company said.
For Alber, it’s good business, it’s good for the planet but it’s also personal. “Of all that I’ve done in my career, this is the single most important thing.”
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