Is Sustainability Truly Sustainable for Retailers? 

Projections suggest that the resale industry will surge to $53 billion in 2023. Interestingly, prominent players like The RealReal have yet to achieve profitability. While the specific factors contributing to The RealReal’s persistent lack of profitability since its establishment in 2011 remain uncertain, it’s worth noting that the resale sector typically demands substantial initial investments. 

Other players, such as outdoor gear retailer REI, are known for their commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability. Consequently, when consumers discover REI’s resale initiatives, it resonates as an authentic, and REI has achieved longevity and success in the area of sustainability. 

Read more: Is Resale Losing Its Appeal as Consumers Cut Back on Spending? 

However, keeping this in perspective, it’s undeniable that sustainability has become a buzzword in the retail industry. The overuse of the term comes as environmental concerns and social responsibility have taken center stage, and retailers have embraced the term to appeal to conscious consumers. However, this widespread adoption has created a paradox. 

While it’s encouraging that more companies are acknowledging their environmental and social impacts, the overuse of the word “sustainability” has made it challenging for consumers to discern which retailers are genuinely committed to making a difference. 

Rise of Sustainability in Retail

As consumers became more environmentally conscious and aware of ethical issues in the production and supply chains, retailers began to recognize the importance of addressing these issues. Sustainability referred to practices that aimed to minimize the negative impact of business operations on the environment and society while maximizing positive contributions. 

With the awareness of sustainability, retailers quickly caught on to its marketing potential. Many began to use the term liberally, often without substantial changes in their business practices. This led to greenwashing, the practice of conveying a false impression of environmental responsibility. Companies would label products or initiatives as “green” or “eco-friendly” without evidence to support these claims. 

Greenwashing not only undermines consumer trust but also hinders the progress toward a more sustainable future. When companies make vague or unsubstantiated claims about their sustainability efforts, consumers can’t make informed choices.  

From Lip Service to Commitment

In a bid to shift the dialogue and demonstrate the value of sustainability efforts, Goodwill’s GoodwillFinds reCommerce platform, which was launched in October 2022, combines the reputation of local Goodwill stores with the convenience and reach of online shopping. 

Through GoodwillFinds, Goodwill ensures that all net proceeds from purchases go to social services programs that aim to empower individuals through job training, mentorship and employment opportunities. 

It started with four regional Goodwills and has since expanded to 10 metropolitan territories. It features an inventory of 250,000 items, with a goal to list 1 million items by the end of the year. 

How Goodwill Addresses Sustainability

GoodwillFinds seeks to foster shopping habits that can redirect over 4 billion pounds of used goods away from landfills every year through the Goodwill network. 

Additionally, in the face of the challenges confronting the American economy, GoodwillFinds is looking to provide consumers with value and the chance to create a positive influence within their communities. 

According to PYMNTS, the current economic landscape has been characterized by inflation, which has raised concerns among workers regarding their wages keeping up with the increasing cost of living. 

The data gleaned from the “Consumer Inflation Sentiment Report” revealed that 72% of employed consumers believe their wages have either barely kept pace with inflation or have failed to do so. 

Read more: 41% of Employed Consumers Tackle Inflation by Doing Gig Work 

Every purchase made through GoodwillFinds initiates a chain reaction, providing job training, resume assistance, financial education, and essential services to individuals in need within the community where the item was contributed. 

“This is true circularity, which Goodwill has been pioneering for over 100 years,” said Matthew Kaness, CEO of GoodwillFinds in a statement. “We are building a modern technology and marketing platform that enables reCommerce at scale, which is great for consumers, local communities and our planet.”

Is Sustainability Sustainable?

Sustainability in the retail industry is a complex and evolving concept. It involves aligning with consumer expectations, investing in sustainable practices, adapting to regulations, and staying ahead of market trends.  

While there may be short-term challenges and costs, many retailers see sustainability as an integral part of their future viability and success. However, it is essential for retailers to strike a balance between sustainability and economic considerations to ensure their continued growth and profitability.