Selfridges goes bold with far-reaching net zero commitments, but are they realistic?

Selfridges goes bold with far-reaching net zero commitments, but are they realistic?

Selfridges goes bold with far-reaching net zero commitments, but are they realistic?

Critical times call for bold actions and in the case of retailer Selfridges, that means setting their net zero emissions targets 10 years ahead of schedule. By 2020, they have set science-based targets (SBTs) for emissions reductions in their stores, offices and online stores. Their emissions are classified as follows: Scope 1 is their direct emissions from shops and offices, 2 is their indirect energy emissions to power their shops and offices, and 3 is 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 across all three scopes by 2040, announcing this goal today in their Project Earth report.

For Selfridges, Scope 3 is responsible for 95% of the retailer’s total emissions, but these emissions are beyond their direct control, deep into the supply chains of the brands and suppliers from which they purchase products. So how is net zero emissions achieved from a position of little to no control?

Influence vs Control

During a briefing on the Project Earth report in the Oxford Street store, I spoke to Rosie Forsyth, the company’s head of sustainability, who described Selfridges as an “aggregator and influencer to inspire sustainable choices” – a sustainability steward, if you want. The retailer sits between the consumers and the suppliers of goods, but can extend their influence into their suppliers’ supply chains to ensure that those third parties set and meet ambitious emission reduction targets, so that Selfridges, in turn, can set their own targets. to fetch? “Selfridges commits that 10% of our suppliers, measured by logistics and capital equipment emissions, will have SBTs by 2024,” the report states, but even if this is achieved, the SBTs will then be established and implemented on time for 2030 and then for 2040 goals? I never knock on ambition, but this would take a lot of drastic collaboration from many independent parties to get close to this goal.

In addition, if the pressure Selfridges is putting on brands and suppliers spreads through the supply chain and leads to emissions reduction activities, how will Selfridges track and measure this? Because right now there exists a “black hole” where much of the essential data for such calculations would be. And when the data is there, it is collected in a variety of ways, in multiple manual and digital formats, and is owned by individual stakeholders, who are not obligated (or often motivated) to share it. Brands struggle to access this data, so how could Selfridges, who is another step away, do?

Measuring material and product impact

Currently, the only reliable way to assess Scope 3 impacts within the supply chain, while remote, is to use global average data with as many assumptions as constraints. However, there is good news on this front. Within Scope 3, experts have concluded that some global average datasets on raw material emissions are reliable due to common technologies and standardized processing methods. Many supply chain impact assessment databases, including TrusTrace and GreenStory, use these ‘baseline data sets’ and then input additional primary data from specific supply chain processes to develop accurate impact assessments for a particular material or product. Selfridges has made significant efforts to track material impact through their ‘materiality assessment’ and subsequent custom software solution to digitize the material composition of all the products they buy, use and sell; from paper to meat, to cotton and polyester. By doing so, they have identified and mapped the 9 key materials, by volume, within their product offering.

This is a big and interesting leap, especially since it includes 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 hopes of reducing their material impact through better sourcing. In the case of fashion, the highest-volume materials are, unsurprisingly, cotton and polyester. But for all the wisdom and efforts here, there may be a chink in the armor.

Data Gaps

Datasets exist on the impact of raw materials, which Selfridges could make reliable use of. But the production stages of raw materials and fibers only account for about 14% of a product’s emissions (based on findings from the World Apparel Lifecycle Database). Nearly 80% of emissions occur in the yarn spinning, textile processing and dyeing phases: areas where data is almost inaccessible, even when recorded. If reducing the impact of commodities is Selfridges’ key strategy for achieving Scope 3 goals, the evidence suggests that net zero is impossible. Hypothetically, even if all of their suppliers managed to source raw materials at half the current emissions impact, that would only reduce Scope 3 emissions by 7%, while Selfridges has committed to “the absolute scope 3 reduce greenhouse gas emissions from purchased goods and services by 30. % by 2030”. I have asked for more details on whether most emissions impacts (which are in the fiber and textile processing stages) will be pursued, and how to overcome the data challenge, and will provide updates in due course.

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

Another goal in the report is that Selfridges aims to have 45% of transactions come from circular products (which they describe as resale (used), rental, repair, refill or recycled). “Recycled” in this context means that it contains a minimum of 50% certified recycled materials, as explained by Rosie Forsyth. It is unclear what this 45% of transaction volume means in terms of emissions reduction, or how it would be measured. But what is clear is the magnitude of the challenge, as currently only 1% of sales come from ‘circular’ products.

Selfridges’ progress so far

Selfridges achieved a 13% reduction in scope 1 and 2 emissions in 2021 and is targeting a further 51% reduction from 2022-2030 compared to their 2018 base year.

For Scope 3, Selfridges has reported no progress to date, but commits to reduce absolute emissions from purchased goods and services by 30% by 2030 compared to a base year 2018. If this is to be achieved, it appears that a reduction of the emissions generated from yarn and textile processing will be essential, but with the challenges and barriers outlined earlier, the road ahead looks bumpy. A lever could be to determine the geographic location of yarn and textile processing for the products in their software mapping tool and to make deductions about the energy mix in those countries to determine the share of renewable energy.

Levers and Limitations for Reducing Scope 3 Emissions

The textile production sites with the highest stocks of renewable energy offer immediate and clear opportunities to reduce impact, but again, this is down the supply chain and remote from Selfridges. This is also a risky strategy in terms of costs and social justice, as producing countries in the south of the world struggle to access renewable energy infrastructure, compared to those in the north of the world; The defection of producing 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 Selfridges sells are undoubtedly made. In the case of Selfridges, it would also conflict with their cornerstone value to “Lead with Purpose” [and] make sustainable decisions that contribute to a better future”.

The next steps include “developing a robust methodology for measuring our scope 3 footprint and a roadmap that will take us to net zero by 2040,” the report said. But the complexities are many, and for 95% of Selfridges releases, the plan of attack is undefined or, crucially, in place.

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