Target has pledged to reduce landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions its business generates in the next 20 years, a large step as the Minneapolis-based retailer continues to affirm its commitment to sustainability.
The campaign, which the retailer calls Target Forward, involves both environmental goals and equity objectives, Target announced Tuesday.
"We know sustainability is tied to business resiliency and growth, and that our size and scale can drive change that is good for all," said Brian Cornell, the Minneapolis-based company's chief executive, in a statement. "Target Forward influences every corner of our business, deepens our collaboration with our partners and builds on our past efforts to ensure a better future for generations to come."
By 2040, Target has pledged to send zero waste to landfills in its U.S. operations, meaning it plans to divert the majority of waste from landfills through reuse, recycling, donation and other types of reduction strategies. At the same time, it wants to reach net zero emissions across its operations and supply chain so that the amount of emissions produced isn't more than the amount the company removes from the atmosphere.
Around that same time, Target said it also wants all its owned brands to be designed with a circular supply chain in mind, such as using materials that are regenerative, recycled or sourced sustainably to create products that are more durable or recyclable.
By 2030, Target aims to be the market leader for "creating and curating inclusive, sustainable brands and experiences," the company said.
Edward Jones retail analyst Brian Yarbrough said he wouldn't be surprised if other retail chains begin to follow Target and other stores' example, though it may take awhile and there are still questions about how, logistically, retailers will meet their goals. Yarbrough also isn't sure the general public is aware enough about the concept of zero waste that it would outweigh other factors in shopping like price and convenience.
"It's becoming a bigger issue in the investing world, no doubt ... and I think some consumers are interested in ESG [environmental, social and governance] and zero waste and all of these things, but I still think that's probably the minority as far as consumers," he said.
These types of initiatives can be expensive, and usually costs will get passed on to the consumer, but it's possible companies can find other ways to cut costs to try to balance those expenses, Yarbrough said.
The new environmental promises build on other commitments Target has made in recent years to be more environmentally conscious. Several of its brands are made from sustainable materials, such as Everspring, which features cleaning bottles made of recycled plastic, and its clothing brand Universal Thread, which uses sustainably sourced cotton and recycled polyester.
Last summer, Target announced it had joined the Beyond the Bag initiative with other major retailers to test and implement alternatives to the traditional plastic retail bag. Earlier this year, the consortium unveiled design winners, such as a bag made from seaweed-derived material, that will be tested.
Target has initiated an in-store customer recycling program for the last decade and currently accepts cans, glass, plastic bottles, plastic bags, ink cartridges, MP3 players and cell phones. Target has previously committed to ensuring that all the plastic packaging for its owned brands be 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
The retail industry continues to be a large generator of waste through packaging, textile waste and more as customers are encouraged to consume and buy the next best thing. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 4.2 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were generated in the United States in 2018, with most ending up in landfills. More than 9 million tons of clothing and footwear were landfilled.
Target isn't the only retailer to make sweeping environmental pledges. Competitor Walmart, which is also part of the Beyond the Bag initiative, has set an ambitious goal to achieve zero waste in its operations in the U.S., U.K., Japan and Canada by 2025. In April, Richfield-based Best Buy announced it had earned the company's first TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) certification for zero waste awarded to a supply chain facility in California.
"Sustainability is in its second act in retail," said retail analyst and consultant Carol Spieckerman, in an e-mail about Target's announcement. "Retailers are having to set ever-more-aggressive goals and go beyond lip service to appeal to shoppers. Particularly as government inaction remains a looming threat, retailers have an opportunity to stand out and make a difference."
In addition to Target's environmental goals, the company has previously announced it has committed to increase its number of Black employees by 20% by 2023. According to numbers shared last fall, about 15% of Target's total workforce is Black.
"We want our guests to turn to Target first when they think about sustainability," said Amanda Nusz, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at Target and president of the Target Foundation, in a statement. "We know that the only way to make that possible is by putting both people and the planet at the center of our efforts, as we co-create with our guests, our partners and the communities we serve."
Target is expected to release its corporate responsibility report later this summer.