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Despite COVID-19 Hits, Nordstrom Wants to ‘Leave the World a Better Place’

Pandemic or no pandemic, Nordstrom says it wants to continue to drive improvements that “leave the world in a better place,” despite posting a brutal $521 million first-quarter loss and wrestling with deep cuts in its national workforce.

The Seattle-headquartered department store announced on Monday its 2025 corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals, which include commitments to move the needle in the areas of environmental sustainability, human rights and corporate philanthropy.

“As a company, we believe the impacts we have on our employees, customers and communities extend well beyond the walls of our stores,” wrote Erik and Pete Nordstrom, the mall anchor’s CEO and president, respectively, in the company’s latest CSR report. “We have an obligation to think beyond a single sale or interaction with a customer to ensure we’re operating as a responsible company our employees can be proud of.”

Nordstrom has set such goal posts as halving the amount single-use plastic in its value chain, ensuring that 15 percent of its product assortment qualifies under its “sustainable style” banner, taking back 100 tons of beauty packaging for recycling and investing more than $50 million in the communities where the retailer operates within the next five years.

With its in-house Nordstrom Made clothing label, Nordstrom says it plans to disclose traceability to the factory for 90 percent of its products by 2025. In addition, it plans to produce 90 percent of those same products in factories that invest in women’s empowerment.

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“The idea that we have a role to play in building and shaping a positive, more inclusive and sustainable future isn’t new to us, but it’s become more important than ever,” the Nordstroms said.

Meanwhile, Nordstrom says it has “hit or exceeded” several corporate social responsibility milestones for 2020, including surpassing its goal of sourcing 90 percent of its energy from renewables in deregulated markets where it has the flexibility to choose its own energy sources. The company has achieved “100 percent pay equity” for employees, it says, while taking “additional steps” to “further empower” women in its supply chain. By the end of 2020, 20 percent of all Nordstrom Made products will be produced in factories that have implemented HERProject, a CSR initiative that addresses health, financial inclusion and gender equality in the workplace.

Nordstrom, a signatory of the G7 Fashion Pact, which coaxed 32 companies representing 150 brands to grapple with issues such as climate change, ocean protection and biodiversity, says it now stocks thousands of ethical and planet-friendly products in its “sustainable style” category. It also increased clothing donation by 42 percent from 2018 and achieved a score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for the 15th consecutive year.

“Yet we know we have further to go,” the Nordstroms said. “We can and must do more and we’re continually pushing ourselves to be a better company. Last year, we worked with an external partner to help us ensure we prioritize the areas of our business where we can make the most impact. We spent time listening to customers, employees, company leaders, investors, sustainability experts and even brand partners to understand how we could improve our CSR efforts.”

The result, they said, is a “more aggressive stance to make meaningful progress,” including collaborations with groups such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular program, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and CDP Supply Chains.

“We have more visibility than ever before into the impact our business has on the environment and how we manufacture our products,” they added. “This means we have an increasing responsibility to mitigate those impacts whenever possible. It is our hope that together with our customers, partners and employees, we can work toward a more sustainable future.”

Such a tack may be strategic positioning as well. In May, the Boston Consulting Group, Sustainable Apparel Coalition and its Higg Co. spinoff published a report cautioning that only companies that stay the sustainable course will emerge as the leaders of a “resurgent fashion industry” in a post-COVID-19 world.

Demand for sustainability may have even increased because of the pandemic, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, which found that 54 percent of the apparel and textile brand executives it polled have seen their customers’ appetite for environmentally sustainable practices and products increase since the beginning of the outbreak.

Similarly, McKinsey & Company, in an April coronavirus update, described a “quarantine of consumption” that could accelerate antipathy toward waste-producing business practices and supercharge consumer demand for brands that take “purpose-driven sustainable action.”