Where everyone gets a better future

The Warehouse Group is charting a sustainable course with the purpose of helping Kiwis live better every day.

The not-inconsiderable task of steering the Group’s sustainability journey falls under the leadership of David Benattar, who was appointed as the Group’s Chief Sustainability Officer in 2018 and tasked with driving the delivery of its ESG ambitions.

Putting new measures and programmes in place to deliver

The Warehouse Group’s sustainability journey is an authentic evolution of the legacy that The Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall created, says Benattar.

“We don’t see sustainability and ESG as a business function or a set of activities on the side. Instead, it is fully embedded in the core of every team member, business activity and operation of the organisation.

“Our approach to ESG has grown in maturity and has become a portfolio of commitments, targets, and strategic initiatives designed to deliver on our ambitions and importantly, the needs of our customers.

“As a retailer we look at the sustainability behaviours of our customers, and we recognise that these behaviours have exponentially accelerated over the past few years.

“Purpose, values, consumer behaviours and new business requirements are factors driving the acceleration of sustainability and ESG strategies by corporates, in order to adapt to this new reality.

“Our sustainability journey started in the early 2000’s and we have been making steady progress since. In February 2019 we reached a transformative milestone when we achieved carbon neutrality – just the third major global retailer to do so. This highlighted that we were taking sustainability leadership very seriously,” says Benattar.

“We look at the sustainability behaviours of our consumers, and we recognise that these behaviours have exponentially accelerated over the past few years.”

David Benattar, The Warehouse Group

“We are taking responsibility for our impact on the environment and have put measures, reporting and investment in place to support that. When we went carbon neutral it made a statement to the market and we were pleased that a number of other corporates decided to do the same.

“Another recent step change was the launch of our Sustainable & Affordable programme in 2020, wherein we shared our belief with customers that the decision to live more sustainably shouldn’t need to cost more and introduced a range of quality and more sustainable everyday products at affordable prices.

“Currently we have around 9,000 products with at least one sustainable feature, like certified sustainable materials or packaging with reduced plastic and improved recyclability and reusability,” says Benattar.

“We have put the customer as the centre of our sustainability practice and understand that they are not trading off between affordability and sustainability, they are asking for both.”

Prioritising a new programme of ESG focus

The Warehouse Group runs a materiality assessment that maps priorities, risks, and opportunities against the dimensions of environmental and social governance, listening to the market along the way, and assessing the value at stake.

“Our customers tell us they care about sustainable products, product packaging and waste. They are asking for alternatives and regulations to be introduced. Therefore, this is a top priority for us.”

Benattar believes organisations have a chance to select an ESG element and make it an area of focus. For instance, it could be de-carbonisation or social giving.

“Some top priorities for The Warehouse Group include the future of work, employee engagement, as well as diversity and inclusion. We need to address all these opportunities and dimensions to operate in today’s complex, moving and dynamic business environment.”

Bringing new support to the community

Community is also at the core of The Warehouse Group’s outlook, says Benattar.

“Community is clearly identified and detailed on multiple levels including across our team, customers, operating locations and co-partnering communities. This has defined how we support community organisations.”

The deep commitment and passion The Warehouse team members have for helping communities and organisations across New Zealand is integral to the business.

“Our support of community organisations nationally and locally is about investing in the sustainability of communities which is essential to creating a positive future for Aotearoa. We do so much more than fundraise for these organisations; we put their causes at the centre of the conversation. That’s the influence we can effect by leveraging the footprint we have across the country.”

As an example of this work, The Warehouse partnered with The Period Place with the goal of eliminating period poverty in New Zealand by 2030, rolling out a period product donation initiative across 26 stores with donated products and educational material being provided to local community groups supporting those in need.

"We do so much more than fundraise for these organisations; we put their causes at the centre of the conversation.”

Benattar says: “Another important step in our efforts to tackle period inequity was the introduction of a range of $1 period products in 2019. This was a game changer in eliminating period poverty, by making period products both affordable and accessible to more Kiwis and by removing the price barrier, we changed the conversation.”

The network effect

Footprint also equals supply chain, and Benattar acknowledges that The Warehouse Group has an opportunity to create positive impact through its collaboration with supply chain partners.

“There are two dimensions that define how we engage and how far we are able to go. One dimension is through our ethical sourcing programme which we have had in place for 17 years to assess our supplier factories and ensure worker rights in regard to health and safety, working hours, wages and benefits are protected. Our qualification processes and the linkage of order data to production sources means that we can currently trace almost 100 per cent of our product range to a qualified factory.

“We care about doing the right thing, not only here but everywhere we operate and are serious about our responsibility to maintain labour and environmental standards in our supply chain. We want to ensure our customers have confidence that our products have been ethically sourced.

“The second is the environmental aspects of sourcing, which is challenging to capture as we keep expanding our requirements. One example of this is carbon emissions, which are difficult to measure across the value chain owing to the lack of sound data and reporting standards. However, our stakeholders require that we focus on these dimensions, so we’re building capabilities to go further, navigating around market capability, what governing regulations set out, and how far we can take it.

“What remains consistent is our intent. The Warehouse Group thrives where there is complexity and challenge, and where people tell us ‘no, that’s not possible’. The transformation over the past few years is driven by the fact that we know we can do it differently, and we keep on pushing until we find a way. I love that about our organisation.”

Sustainability not just a requirement

Benattar signs off by encouraging all business leaders to consider sustainability as an indicator of performance and revenue.

“As a business leader you can modify the paradigm of how you look at sustainability. By changing mindset, you can see sustainability and ESG as the best driver for business performance and innovation.

“I would encourage large corporates to equip themselves with the tools and the skills they need to understand the value dimension. It’s about leadership. If you don’t take action now, you’ll miss an opportunity – that is clearer than ever.”

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