Target Sets Sustainability Standards For Product Sourcing

Target is asking certain vendors to assess the sustainability of their products; the “sustainability scores” will help guide Target's merchandising and product-placement decisions.

As more of its customers consider the environmental impact of the products they buy, Target Corporation is looking to better assess the sustainability of the merchandise it sources from vendors.

The Minneapolis-based retailer recently announced plans to introduce the “Target Sustainable Product Standard,” which was developed over the last couple of years with industry experts, vendors, and other groups that aimed to “establish a common language, definition, and process for qualifying what makes a product more sustainable.”

Beginning this month, Target will ask certain vendors to complete an assessment that is designed to determine a sustainability score for their products. For its new initiative, Target is using a platform designed by San Francisco-based GoodGuide, whose system helps retailers collect data from supply-chain vendors and is meant to aid them in making sustainable sourcing decisions.

Target’s starting with its vendors that together provide 7,500 products in the household cleaner, personal care, beauty, and baby care categories. Products from those vendors will be assigned a score of between zero and 100 “based on the sustainability of ingredients, ingredient transparency, and overall environmental impact,” Target said. Next year, Target will expand its assessments to include cosmetics products.

Target spokeswoman Jessica Stevens told Twin Cities Business on Tuesday that the company doesn’t currently plan to label products with sustainability scores, so there isn’t an obvious consumer-facing component to the initiative. However, products that meet a certain sustainability threshold “will have access to merchandising and marketing assets not otherwise available,” she said.

For example, such products may be advertised featuring the terms “Choose Well.” And Target said its new scoring system will influence its merchandising and product-placement decisions and could eventually be reflected through in-store signage.

Stevens declined to disclose the cost of implementing Target’s new sustainability standards but described them as a “an important first step toward sustainable innovation in our full product assortment.”

GoodGuide co-founder Dara O’Rourke said in a statement that there isn’t currently a widely accepted industry standard by which vendors and retailers can judge the environmental impact and sustainability of products. Through its new initiative, Target will “help push the industry toward consensus on what sustainable standards should be and create incentives for innovation in this highly competitive space, ultimately broadening the sustainable product selection for their guests,” O’Rourke added.

Stevens said that Target worked closely with GoodGuide to build a business-to-business platform that analyzes information about the company's product assortment, and the platform they developed may allow other retailers and brands to evaluate products using their own criteria.