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Sustainability Programs Are Even More Effective through Partnerships

smith, carl, call2recycleWhile there is a lot of talk about manufacturer responsibility in product stewardship, retailers—as the middlemen between manufacturers and consumers—are emerging as a powerful force in environmental stewardship and sustainability. This new level of influence is being intentionally cultivated through strategic partnerships between retailers and manufacturers. Lowe’s and DeWalt, for example, have partnered together to sponsor tool trade-in events that provide both an opportunity and an incentive to recycle outdated power tools.

No organization understands this better than RILA (Retail Industry Leaders Association), the retail industry’s trade association that represents some of the world’s largest and most innovative retail companies.  Importantly, RILA helps its members to become sustainability leaders.

Retailers that craft full-spectrum strategies are able to identify trends and track progression.  According toAdam Siegel, RILA vice president for sustainability and retail operations, “Retailers that develop long-term strategies for sustainability engage with their communities and suppliers, and partner with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Doing so will ensure that they are pursuing the opportunities with the greatest impact given the resources.”

The increase in voluntary partnerships between retailers and manufacturers who are focused on achieving sustainability goals is proving to be one of the most effective ways to ensure the proper disposal of certain types of solid waste, like e-waste. This is important when you consider the results of a 2012 “Green Guilt” survey  commissioned by the non-profit, battery product stewardship organization, Call2Recycle®.  The study confirmed that 57% of Americans possess old electronics needing disposal but 44% do not properly dispose of these items because they don’t know how or where to do it.

With more and more retailers serving as drop-off locations for these items, it has become easier for consumers to change behaviors: those who purchase a new tablet may drop also off their old, obsolete netbook at the same time because the retailer also serves as a recycling collection location.  As these joint take-back and recycling programs gain traction, they are successfully diverting millions of tons of recyclable materials from landfills.

But that’s not all. There are industry-level shifts occurring as well.

1. Successful partnership programs are inspiring other similar programs.

2. Partnership programs are attracting the attention of  industry associations (like RILA), which are studying, measuring and citing these as a source of success.

In March, RILA released its2013 Retail Sustainability Report, which confirmed that “four out of five retailers intend to engage in nearly all aspects of product supply chain sustainability within the next five years: from product and packaging design (including measuring lifecycle impacts and chemicals of concern) to sourcing, manufacturing (environmental and human rights impacts), transportation, sale, and product use and disposal (take-back options).”

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