Selfridges is getting bold with net zero commitments, but are they realistic?

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Critical times demand bold action and in the case of retailer Selfridges, that means setting its net zero emissions targets 10 years ahead of schedule. In 2020, they have set science-based targets (SBT) for emission reductions in their stores, offices and online retail. Their emissions are broken down as follows: Scope 1 corresponds to their direct emissions from stores and offices, 2 corresponds to their indirect emissions from the energy to power their stores and offices, and 3 corresponds to the emissions generated during the creation and transportation of the products and services they buy, sell and use. Selfridges has committed to net zero emissions in all three scopes by 2040, announcing the goal today in its Project Earth report.

For Selfridges, Scope 3 represents 95% of the retailer’s total emissions, but these emissions are outside of its direct control, deep in the supply chains of the brands and suppliers from which they buy products. So how will net zero emissions be achieved from a position of little or no control?

Influence versus control

During a Project Earth report briefing at the Oxford Street store, I spoke with the company’s head of sustainability, Rosie Forsyth, who described Selfridges as an “aggregator and influencer for inspiring sustainable choices” – a sustainability steward, if you will. The retailer stands between consumers and suppliers of goods, but can its influence extend to its suppliers’ supply chains, to ensure that these third parties set and achieve ambitious emission reduction targets, in order to that Selfridges can, in turn, achieve theirs? “Selfridges is committed to having 10% of our suppliers by emissions covering logistics and capital goods have SBTs by 2024,” the report says, but even if that target is met, SBTs will they be set and implemented in time for 2030, then 2040? I never go against ambition, but it would require drastic collaborative action by many independent parties to get closer to that goal.

Also, if the pressure Selfridges puts on brands and suppliers trickles down the supply chain and leads to emission reduction activities, how will Selfridges track and measure this? For now, a “black hole” exists where much of the essential data for such calculations would be. And if the data is there, it’s collected through a variety of methods, in multiple manual and digital formats, and held by individual stakeholders, who have no obligation (or often, incentive) to share it. Brands are struggling to access this data, so how could Selfridges, which is yet another removed step?

Measure the impacts of materials and products

Currently, the only reliable way to assess Scope 3 impacts within the arm’s length supply chain is to use global average data that has as many assumptions as limitations. There is good news on this front, however. In Scope 3, experts have concluded that certain global average feedstock emissions datasets are reliable due to common technologies and standardized processing methods. Many databases that assess supply chain impacts, including TrusTrace and GreenStory, use these “baseline datasets” and then capture additional primary data from specific supply chain processes to flesh out accurate impact assessments for a given material or product. Selfridges has made a significant effort to track material impacts through its ‘Materiality Assessment’ and subsequent bespoke software solution to digitize the material composition of all products they buy, use and sell; from paper to meat, cotton and polyester. In doing so, they identified and mapped the 9 key materials, by volume, within their product offering.

It’s a major and interesting leap, especially since it covers food and fashion, agriculture and textiles. The material volume data from this tool has informed Selfridges’ environmental and social compliance guidelines, which they ask all suppliers and brands to follow in the hope that they reduce their material impacts through better sourcing. . In the case of fashion, the bulkiest materials are, unsurprisingly, cotton and polyester. But despite all the wisdom and effort here, there might be a rift in the armor.

Data gaps

Raw material impact datasets exist that Selfridges could rely on reliably. But the raw material and fiber production steps only account for about 14% of a product’s emissions (based on Global Apparel Lifecycle Database results). Nearly 80% of emissions are in the spinning, textile processing and dyeing phases: areas where data is almost impossible to access, even when it is recorded. Whether reduce impacts on raw materials is Selfridges’ primary strategy for achieving Scope 3 objectives, evidence indicates that net zero is impossible. In theory, even if all their suppliers managed to source raw materials with half the current emissions impact, it would only reduce Scope 3 emissions by 7%, while Selfridges has Committed to “reducing absolute Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions from purchased goods and services by 30%”. % by 2030”. I have asked for more details on whether the majority of emissions impacts (which are in the fiber and textile processing phases) will be researched, and how the data challenge might be overcome, and I will provide updates. timely update.

Well, that got pretty deep, pretty quickly, given that the starting point was a retail sustainability report on reducing emissions and reducing shoppers’ ecological anxiety. During the briefing, Selfridges Managing Director Andrew Keith explained that “80% of our customers care about climate change” and many of them look to Selfridges to help them make purchasing decisions “ more sustainable”. The role of Selfridges is clear in this consumer image, and of course a for-profit retailer must grow and continue to sell more products. Another question I asked in a follow-up email was whether the business strategy calls for selling more products year over year to achieve growth and profitability. Again, I will provide updates as I receive them.

Another target of the report is that Selfridges aims for 45% of transactions to come from circular products (which they describe as reselling (used), renting, repairing, recharging or recycling). “Recycled” in this context means containing a minimum of 50% certified recycled material, as Rosie Forsyth explains. It is not clear what this 45% of the number of transactions corresponds to in terms of emission reductions, or how it would be measured. But what is clear is the scale of the challenge, given that only 1% of sales currently come from “circular” products.

Selfridges progress so far

Selfridges has achieved a 13% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions in 2021 and is targeting an additional 51% reduction between 2022 and 2030, compared to its baseline year of 2018.

For Scope 3, Selfridges has not reported progress to date, but is committed to reducing absolute emissions from purchased goods and services by 30% by 2030 relative to the baseline year 2018. If this is to be achieved, it appears that reducing emissions from yarn and textile processing will be key, but with the challenges and hurdles explained earlier, the road ahead seems bumpy. A lever could be to determine the geographic location of yarn and textile processing for products in their software mapping tool and to make deductions on the energy mix of these countries, to determine the share of renewable energy.

Levers and constraints for reducing Scope 3 emissions

Textile manufacturing sites with the highest renewable energy supplies offer immediate and clear impact reduction opportunities, but again, this is in the supply chain and remote from Selfridges. It is also a risky strategy in terms of cost and social equity, as manufacturing countries in the South find it difficult to access renewable energy infrastructure, compared to those in the North; Leaving manufacturing countries like China, Bangladesh and India would have a significant impact on the livelihoods of textile and garment workers in those countries, where many of the products sold by Selfridges are undoubtedly made. In the case of Selfridges, it would also be at odds with their core value of “Leading with Purpose”. [and] make sustainable decisions that contribute to a better future”.

According to report. But the complexities are many, and where 95% of Selfridges’ emissions are concerned, the plan of attack is not yet defined or, above all, in place.

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