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The Warehouse Group's Nick Grayston on why businesses must get used to environmental scrutiny

The Warehouse Group recently made the decision to go carbon zero, making it one of three major retailers that have done the move worldwide – a bold move by any standards. Chief executive Nick Grayston shares why the retailer made this decision, why it isn't just a greenwashing strategy and its plans to expand on this in the future. 

The Warehouse Group recently announced that we are certified carbon neutral, including all of our 258 stores across The Warehouse, Warehouse Stationery, Noel Leeming and Torpedo7. Put simply, that means we are taking responsibility for our impact on the environment. 

For us, being certified carbon neutral involves offsetting our emissions via ‘Gold Standard’ international carbon credits, and significantly reducing our carbon emissions. It also means investing in the regeneration of around 2.7 million native trees. None of this is cheap, or easy.

As a company, we’ve long spoken out on issues from waste reduction to family violence, and copped our share of flak. Our latest step on this journey has been no exception. We’ve also had our share of plaudits, which we’re grateful for.

While carbon neutrality is new for The Warehouse Group, caring about communities and the environment isn’t. We’re not perfect, but we’ve steadily taken action over many years to improve, and we will continue to do so. 

A recent survey showed that plastic is one of the top issues Kiwis are most concerned about. Plastic is a universal issue that many companies are grappling with, and The Warehouse Group wants to be part of a solution. We’re phasing out single-use checkout bags, and plastic straws are on their way out. We’re keen to see the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme we helped found, back up and running, and so far, we’ve collected over 36 million pieces of plastic for recycling. That’s not enough.

We’re exploring the New Zealand Plastic Packaging Declaration to use 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in our New Zealand operations by 2025 or earlier. When you know how pervasive plastic is in every day products, you begin to grasp the enormity of the task.

We introduced a plastic microbeads policy in 2016 and we no longer sell products containing microplastics.  Any product we sell that contains palm oil must come from a certified sustainable source; and many of our paper, wood and pulp products carry Forest Stewardship Council certification.

We agree that product stewardship is an important dimension to retailing, and we’re also working hard at a national level to make progress on this.  We’re exploring programmes where we can contribute to a circular economy, where we can help facilitate the recycling or conscious disposal of products. We already do this at The Warehouse where you can drop off your old mobile phone for recycling, and at Noel Leeming, where we help our customers recycle their used appliances, and recycle more than 55 tonnes of polystyrene a year. 

The Warehouse’s role as a discount mass merchant retailer is to provide quality goods at an affordable price to New Zealand families. Our move to a direct sourcing model means that we now work directly with more factories, instead of going through a third party.  This is not only more efficient, it also means we can more closely control the quality of the products and the labour and environmental attributes of their manufacture. 

While our carbon neutrality boundary commences at the international shipping origin of our own-label goods, our offshore suppliers’ environmental credentials are rigorously assessed as part our supplier qualification processes.   

As one of New Zealand’s largest retailers with two million customers walking through our doors each week, we are in a unique position to influence change.   That might be anything from encouraging customers to adopt more sustainable habits, to working with our factories and branded suppliers to improve environmental performance throughout our supply chain.

We welcome scrutiny as part of our carbon neutral journey and our commitment to transparency. We’re focused on what’s right for our customers and for New Zealand.  We expect not only our business, but all businesses to be held to higher standards as New Zealand transitions to a lower carbon economy and we play our part in protecting the planet.

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