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Zalando presents first sustainability progress report

By Simone Preuss

18 Mar 2021

One and a half years after the launch of its sustainability strategy Do.more, online retailer Zalando has published its first stand-alone sustainability progress report, showing the extent to which it has achieved its vision to make Zalando a sustainable fashion platform that has a net positive impact on people and the planet.

Sustainability is becoming more important during the pandemic

As a first positive development, the company realised that other fundamental challenges of the day - such as climate change - have not lost out to the current coronavirus pandemic. On the contrary, Zalando found that sustainability had become even more important to 34 percent of its customers over the past year: “Around 50 percent bought at least one more sustainable product at the end of 2020 compared to 18 percent at the beginning of 2020.”

As a company, Zalando confirms: “We see sustainability not as additional cost, but as an investment. Customers care more than ever, and as The Starting Point for Fashion, it’s our mission to meet their desires; anticipate them even. The pandemic isn’t a brake on our sustainability efforts, it’s an accelerant.”

With this stance, Zalando takes a pioneering role in the industry, but what about the actual implementation of the company’s sustainability goals? In terms of its sustainable fashion assortment, the online retailer was able to increase this to 80,000 products, according to the progress report, and thus triple them compared to the previous year. Sixteen percent of the gross merchandise volume is currently generated with the sale of more sustainable products. At the same time, Zalando was able to extend the life of 340,000 products through existing initiatives (such as the Pre-Owned category).

As the first retailer, Zalando is also applying the Higg BRM of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and has made sustainability assessment mandatory for our over 3,500 brand partners and private labels. “Via the Higg BRM from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and Higg Co, we received sustainability information from over 250 brands on their activities for 2019,” says Zalando.

As far as the use of resources is concerned, Zalando has been able to use electricity from renewable sources in its own operations, reducing its scope 1 and 2 emissions by 64 percent compared to 2017. The company’s own operations as well as deliveries and returns are already climate-neutral. In terms of its Science Based Targets to reduce carbon emissions, Zalando was able to reach one already.

Zalando is also tackling its packaging: While items were still shipped with 7.8g of disposable plastic packaging in 2020, the company plans to make this amount zero by 2023. Overall, it already uses 87 percent of recyclable packaging.

As part of its reforestation project, Zalando plans to plant well over 300,000 trees in Spain by the end of 2022 together with the Land Life Company. “At Land Life Company, we believe there is no greater tool than a tree to remove carbon from the atmosphere, revitalize nature and tackle climate change. It is our mission to restore the world’s 2 billion hectares of degraded land by planting trees and growing forests. By planting thousands of hectares of forest, we are able to remove significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while boosting biodiversity and rebuilding habitats at the same time”, explains Rebekah Braswell, COO of Land Life Company.

Other strategic partners are the ACT-Initiative (Action, Collaboration, Transformation), the Ashoka organisation, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Fashion for Good, the Global Fashion Agenda, SAC and the Textile Exchange as well as around 3,500 brand partners.

In regards to the latter, Zalando should take care to ensure that sustainability requirements are discussed with the brand partners and that they have enough time and resources to implement them, otherwise it could be difficult for smaller brands in particular to keep up.

“We made big steps in 2020 and we encouraged our partners to do the same. We are excited and encouraged by the progress we have been able to make. This validates our ability to act and scale solutions fast. Therefore, as outlined in the report, we are accelerating our efforts by raising our target of Gross Merchandise Volume generated by more sustainable products from 20 to 25 percent by 2023. Sustainability standards will also be raised as the eligibility criteria for sustainability flagging is increased,” sums up Kate Heiny, director sustainability at Zalando.

Photo: Rebekah Braswell while presenting Zalando’s do.MORE sustainability strategy in 2019; images: Zalando sustainability progress report