Sustainable Consumption and the Leading US Retailers

Peter Jones(1), Daphne Comfort(2),

(1) The Business School, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, United Kingdom
(2) The Business School, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, United Kingdom


In its 2017 Retail Sustainability Management Report, the Retail Industry Leaders Association identified sustainable consumption as the most critical issue for retailers to address. With this in mind, the aims of this paper are to provide an exploratory review of how the leading US retailers are publicly addressing sustainable consumption and to offer some reflections on current approaches to sustainable consumption within the retail industry. The paper begins with an outline of the characteristics of sustainable consumption, a recognition that it is a contested concept and a brief literature review. The paper draws its empirical material from the most recent sustainability reports posted on the Internet by nine of the top ten US retailers. The findings reveal that while the specific issue of sustainable consumption, per se, was not explicitly addressed in the selected sustainability reports, the leading US retailers did address a number of surrogate elements, including waste management, sustainable procurement and sustainable transport, seen to characterise sustainable consumption by the United Nations Environment Programme. However, the authors suggest that that the selected companies’ commitments to sustainable consumption are at best ambivalent in that they are driven as much by business efficiency and cost savings measures as by any desire to encourage more sustainable patterns of consumption, let alone reduce overall consumption levels. The paper provides an accessible commentary on current approaches to sustainable consumption amongst the leading US retailers and as such it will interest academics and retailing and business management students as well as professionals working in, and with, the retail industry.


sustainable consumption, US retailers, Retail Industry Leaders Association, external assurance, circular economy

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