Once upon a time, seeing retail brands invest in sustainability might have seemed like a pipedream. Looking ahead to 2050 net-zero targets, changing consumer expectations and behaviours, and increasing mandated climate-related disclosures around the world, it’s safe to say considering sustainability and decarbonisation should be a priority for every Australian retailer.
There is growing evidence that this is something consumers want and are willing to pay for. A 2023 TEADS study found that 75% of Australian consumers wanted companies to take a stance on sustainability. A Monash ARCS survey also revealed insight into consumer priorities, finding over half of Australians were willing to pay more for durable, repairable, and locally produced products.
With more brands leveraging ESG as a competitive edge, studies also show a notable increase in greenwashing and greenhushing in the retail industry. 25% of Australians said they have witnessed companies making insincere sustainability claims, such as prioritising profit over sustainable goals (TEADS 2023). In an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) report, 57% of the 247 businesses reviewed made concerning claims about their environmental credentials. On the flip side, greenhushing is emerging as a new sustainability trend—it’s when companies don’t disclose their climate targets or environmental efforts to avoid criticism or backlash. One industry struggling with greenhushing claims is fashion. The 2023 Fashion Transparency Index reveals that only a small minority of fashion retailers are transparent with their supply chain traceability, waste and overproduction practices, and sourcing materials.
The best way to combat greenwashing, and gain a real sustainability competitive edge, is to have a robust and transparent measuring and reporting system in place. Many companies have also made the commitment to transparent reporting and science-based targets by joining Climate Active.
Let’s take a look at some sustainable Australian companies working towards a more climate-friendly retail industry, with transparent practices and reporting.
Founded in Melbourne in 1987, Aesop has become globally renowned for its simple and high-quality hair, skin, and body products. Aesop is a certified B corporation, with sustainability guiding its business agenda. Aesop products are vegan, not tested on animals, and the company runs an Internal Ethical Sourcing programme to make sure materials come from environmentally responsible suppliers. Most of Aesop bottles are made from PET plastic (made of 97% recycled household plastic), and it is also conducting a glass bottle refill trial at select stores in Melbourne to further develop its packaging towards a circular loop.
Bassike is an Australian design-led fashion retailer known for its high-quality wardrobe staples. 95% of Bassike clothing is made locally in Australia with people and planet in mind. In 2022, Bassikes’ signature cotton jersey collection was certified Climate Active, becoming its first zero-carbon line. The company has further worked to decarbonise by prioritising sea freight and converting its knitting mill to use solar energy. Bassike screens its supply partners through its Internal Sustainable Ethical Manufacturing Index, supported by three core pillars: environment, labour, and animal welfare. New products are only developed at Basikke if they meet acceptable standards, with unsuccessful products exited from production.
Four Pillars Gin
Gin maker Four Pillars Gin is leading the charge in sustainable drink-making in Australia. Founded in 2013 in Healesville in Yarra Valley, Four Pillars Gin has since been named the world’s best gin twice. The company has embraced sustainability initiatives from the beginning, using leftover botanicals to make condiments like jam, using mulch left over from production to grow more ingredients, and powering its distillery using solar energy. In 2022, the company became officially carbon neutral and was awarded the Global Green Spirits Initiative trophy. It has also partnered with Biogone to use only biodegradable packaging.
Jardan has been making long-lasting Australian furniture since 1987, with a design-led ethos that accounts for the complete lifecycle. Jardan has been carbon neutral for almost 10 years and has been reporting on its sustainability throughout that time. Jardan furniture is inspired by the Australian lifestyle and nature, and it sources 75% of its raw materials locally. Timber, feather and down, linen, cotton, and foam used in furniture are certified by an accepted industry standard. Jardan comprises a team of only eight people, proving that even small companies can make big commitments to operating as sustainably as possible.
Nutura Organic makes organic, Australian-made baby formula, and is on a mission to create green and clean baby products for the Australian market. Traditionally the production of milk formula can leave a heavy imprint on the environment, with dairy production impacting land and waterways, and products packed in single-use plastics. Nutura is working to change that and is the only baby formula company in Australia using organic milk to produce its products. It is dual organic certified by ACO and NASAA, and also operates carbon neutrally.
Thankyou is a social enterprise making hand, body, and cleaning products with a difference, and arguably one of the best-known sustainable Australian brands. Thankyou donates 100% of its profits to partners working to end extreme poverty around the world and has donated over $18 million since its beginning in 2008.
The company ranked number one on the Nielsen Brand Sustainability Index in 2022, and has been setting the benchmark for other Australian retailers in reporting and setting clear targets. Thankyou is Climate Active, part of the APCO, and reports openly about every aspect of sustainability in their business yearly, as well as being committed to the ten principles of the UNGC.
Modibodi was founded in 2011 by Australian mum, Kristy Chong, who was looking for comfortable and environmentally friendly options of leakproof underwear, and found none. Modibodi has since become a trendsetter in the period underwear industry, and for 10 years through its work, has also helped deliver period health products to underprivileged communities in Australia and abroad. The products themselves reduce the need for traditional single-use period products like tampons and pads. The underwear’s production process uses responsibly sourced and sustainable fibres, like wool, organic cotton, and viscose derived from bamboo.
MECCA is the biggest Australian beauty retailer, with over 100 stores across Australia stocking over 150 beauty brands under one roof. Many beauty products consist of various small parts of plastic, glass, and paper, and can be hard to recycle through household recycling. MECCA has partnered with Terracycle to help customers return their beauty waste to stores and help these parts get recycled and reused. The programme prevents over 30,000 kg of beauty waste from ending up in landfill every year.
JB Hi-fi group brings together two of Australia’s most well-known home entertainment retailers, JB Hi-fi and The Good Guys. For years, JB Hi-fi has implemented sustainability practices according to the TCFD guidelines as part of its wider company policy. The business has many sustainability initiatives in place, like increasing solar power in its stores, LED lighting across stores to save on electricity, and an Ethical Sourcing Policy to screen suppliers on ESG factors. The group is also an APCO member and has a trade-in policy across stores in Australia, where consumers can bring old products like phones and laptops to be recycled, and earn a store credit in return.
Australians need no introduction to Bunnings—this hardware store is an integral part of Australian culture. Bunnings has committed to many climate goals, including sourcing 100% renewable energy by 2025 and reaching net-zero scope 1 and scope 2 emissions by 2030.
Bunnings also hosts some of the more comprehensive retail recycling schemes in Australia. Customers can return batteries, power-corded tools, plastic plant pots, and leftover paint to stores for recycling. The stores also collect rainwater to look after Bunnings nurseries, and source only responsibly grown timber through their Responsible Timber Sourcing Programme.
Nana Judy, a premium streetwear fashion brand based in Melbourne since 2006, is dedicated to a comprehensive Climate Active Emissions Reduction Strategy, with a targeted 30% reduction in their carbon footprint by FY2029. While this impact may seem far away, immediate initiatives involve a shift to 100% renewable electricity, reducing air travel, and implementing biodegradable packaging. In close collaboration with major retail partners, the brand actively works to minimise plastic usage and has enlisted external consultants to accelerate its strategies. Nana Judy’s commitment also encompasses resource use reduction and mitigating environmental impacts in collaboration with supply chain partners.
Zero Co’s mission is to “untrash the planet”, and it’s been tackling plastic waste since 2019 through its range of refillable home cleaning and body-care products. It works by customers purchasing a set of “foverever” bottles made from 50% recycled and ocean plastic, along with refill pouches containing 40% recycled materials. The pouches are conveniently returned in prepaid packages for refilling, effectively eliminating the need for single-use plastics and closing the loop.
The company has not only streamlined the supply chain but has also achieved a carbon-negative footprint on all its deliveries while fostering a circular economy for its products—a system that Zero Co itself says it hopes bigger retailers would copy.
1. Magna Global, TEADS, Project Drawdown, “Sustainability Speaks: breaking the barrier of climate communication,” https://magnaglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Teads-PD-Sustainability-Speaks.pdf Accessed on December 20, 2023
2. Monash University ACRS, “Retail Sustainability Spotlight,” https://issuu.com/monashbusinessschool/docs/2023_retail_sustainability_spotlight_final?fr=sNDhlNzY0MTEwOTY Accessed on December 20, 2023
3. Fast Company, “What is ‘greenhushing’? The new negative sustainability trend, explained,” https://www.fastcompany.com/90858144/what-is-green-hushing-the-new-negative-sustainability-trend-explained Accessed on December 20, 2023
4. Australian Competiton and Consumer Comission, “Greenwashing bybusinesses in Australia,” https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Greenwashing%20by%20businesses%20in%20Australia.pdf Accessed on December 20, 2023
5. Fashion Revolution, “The Fashion Transparency Index 2023,” https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/transparency/ Accessed on December 20, 2023
6. United Nations Global Compact, “The Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact,” https://unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc/mission/principles Accessed on December 20, 2023
7. JB Hi-fi Limited, “Sustainability Report 2023,” https://investors.jbhifi.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/Sustainability-Report-2023-Large-Resolution-20MB.pdf Accessed on December 20, 2023