Australian retailers back climate strikes

Last Friday, approximately 300,000 people rallied against inaction on climate change around Australia, joined by millions more across the world. 

Taking place across all capital cities, as well as across more than 100 other locations, the climate strikes were calling for a switch to 100 per cent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030, as well as an end to coal, gas and oil projects.

It wasn’t just members of the public and students taking part in the strikes, however, with more than 2800 businesses across the country taking a stand together under the “Not Business As Usual” alliance, including retailers such as Mud Australia, Koala and Australian Geographic.

Online marketplace Redbubble also joined in on the movement, affording its global staff the opportunity to attend their local rallies. 

“We had Redbubble group employees at all four of our worldwide offices – New York, San Francisco, Melbourne and Berlin – who attended the strike,” Redbubble chief legal officer Corina Davis told Inside Retail Weekly

“Everyone was given time off work to go and support the efforts. We tried to organise the offices so that we had a group going to [each one].”

Redbubble chief supply chain officer Arnaud Deshais told IRW it was important for a global brand such as Redbubble to interject on global issues such as this – ones which touch the artists it supports around the world. 

“I think it’s very important to work to engage the problem and with the strikes – we understand our responsibility,” Deshais said. 

“It’s important that we do something when, just by the nature of our business, we know that we are causing some of the issue.”

Though Redbubble sees itself as a business striving for social responsibility, seeing almost 3000 other brands taking part in the action was exciting for them. 

“I think it’s very important, we knew that by giving our employees the time off we would give them the opportunity to raise their voice for an important cause,” Davis said. 

“We’re a company built on passion and self-expression, so we’ve been incredibly excited by the passion of the students who are leading the charge. I think that’s incredibly meaningful to us.”

Many hands make light work

Young people, such as 16-year-old activist Greta Thunburg, largely led the social discourse surrounding these strikes – giving politicians, businesses and the world at large an opportunity to listen to what they had to say. 

Beauty retailer Lush, which was also part of the Not Business As Usual movement, shut its tills, closed its offices and stores, powered down its factories, and turned its website to a low-energy holding page in response to the pledges of these children.

“There can be no call stronger than children sincerely asking us to do the right thing,” Lush said in a statement.

“They ask, that in the same way that they have interrupted their education, that we interrupt our ‘business as usual’ and join them… we hear our children and we stand with them.”

Outdoor retailer Macpac also voiced its support for the strikes, noting that it was proud to stand with children against the “biggest threat to the future of our planet”.

“As an outdoor business, we are passionate about protecting the wild places we hold so dear, and empowering individuals and communities to create positive long-term change for the good of our planet,” a Macpac statement said. 

“We are on a journey to become the most environmentally sustainable business that we can be.”

Parcelpoint chief executive Julian Leach told IRW that while supporting the strikes is “the right thing to do” for many retailers, it also made perfect business sense. 

“In our recent survey of Australian online shoppers, more than two-thirds told us they prefer to buy from businesses that show they care about the environment. For shoppers under the age of 35, this increased to 75 per cent,” Leach said. 

“We want to do our bit because we have a responsibility like everyone else – it’s about building awareness of the issues and creating a platform for change.

As well as cancelling all meetings on the day and encouraging staff to attend the strikes, Parcelpoint has been working to develop products that reduce the environmental impact of delivery, such as the rollout of electric delivery vans. 

According to Amy Roche, director at Retail Rockstars, the strikes could have both positive and negative effects on business, such as a potential loss of business or grumpy customers – but that the positives felt different this time. 

“This ‘Not Business as Usual’ strike differs in what it really says to staff and customers. By participating… Australian retailers did rise to the occasion, it says to staff, ‘if you’re passionate about this, we support you’,” Roche told IRW.

“I think consumers are sick of hearing watered down and politically correct messaging. They want to know where you stand on ethical [issues] and climate change.

“Many retailers are afraid to alienate customers by picking a side. But in fact, letting your customers and potential customers know where you stand is likely to attract more customers that think like you do.”

Business as a force for good

Patagonia country director for Australia and New Zealand Dane O’Shanassy told IRW businesses have a huge role to play in creating change.

“Especially change of this significance, I don’t think we can rely on governments to do all the heavy lifting,” O’Shanassy said. 

“As businesses, we all have values and views, and I think often as big issues start to reach a tipping point, we really start to see business advocating to play a role, as we are seeing now with climate change.”

In the last year, Patagonia has updated its mission statement for the first time in 30 years – “We’re in business to save our home planet” – in an effort to focus its influence within the retail industry to call for environmental, ethical and social change. 

“We make products that people use to experience the outdoors, so we’ve seen first hand the change and degradation that climate change is contributing to,” O’Shanassy said. “So, from a strategic perspective, and down to a cultural perspective, Patagonia really wants to use its business as a force for good.”

Patagonia also threw its support behind the young climate activists, with O’Shannassy stating their efforts were heartening, and created a sense of energy at the brand. 

“[We have these] wonderful, educated young people who are really figuring out how they can have a voice in this conversation. We really wanted our brand to be more about standing behind them, more so than putting ourselves out front and centre,” O’Shannassy said.

To this effect, Patagonia launched its “Facing Extinction” campaign over the weekend, which highlighted the efforts of the young activists, and closed its stores and offices for the strikes, allowing its staff the opportunity to interact with the strikes in whatever way they wished.

“For some, this meant putting down tools and heading to a march close by, for others it meant contributing in other ways,” O’Shannassy explained. 

How do you start making a change?

In a difficult retail environment, to close a store for any amount of time can be a difficult thing to do, let alone every store a brand owns worldwide. According to retail strategist Katie Smith, it was a loud, clear message that fosters the kind of community needed in order to create change on this scale – both internally and externally. 

“Now is not the time for hollow marketing initiatives,” Smith told IRW. “If you are going to join the conversation, make sure it authentically comes from the very core of the company. Be committed to getting educated [and] don’t get vocal until you’re prepared to really examine your processes.”

Engaging in socially responsible behaviour – and having a true vision and reason behind your brand – will definitely alienate some customers, retail strategist Salena Knight told IRW

“But in the process, it will also provide a foundation to build a loyal and devoted, potentially cult following, which could be far more valuable.”


1 comment

  1. Gerald Simenson posted on September 25, 2019

    I'm right behind the climate strike. Just sacked all the staff, repaired Granny's pedal powered Singer and borrowed a candle. Man, I am hot to trot.

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