Target store at sunset

Target is a profitable company – and a very sustainable one too.  According to The Guardian, Target is one of 10 companies that make $1 billion a year or more from sustainable products and operations. Still wondering about the business case for sustainability? Wonder no more.

Sustainable building operations, the ‘bulls eye’

The marriage of profit and sustainability is no accident. Target’s CEO, Brian Cornell, outlines the company’s four Corporate Responsibility goals around the “environment, team member well-being, education and volunteerism” in numerous company communications.  And while these are explicit priorities, he “remains vigilant on broader issues such as climate change” because these matters “affect not only our business but also our guests and the entire global economy.”

Target shopping carts
Image Credit – Mike Mozart (Flickr)

Targeting reduction

In Target’s 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report, the company outlines 20 goals. It’s telling that 10 of the 20 goals have an environmental focus. Target knows that sustainability is a multi-faceted issue that requires action on many fronts. It’s impressive to see a big company take big action that is commensurate with the issues.

Not surprisingly, one of these fronts is to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from its stores. Target has an explicit goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% per million dollars of sales by 2015 – a goal they confess they missed. As of 2014, Target had achieved an 8.8% reduction from their 2007 baseline. They are on track to reduce their GHGs per square foot by 10% from a 2007 baseline. As of 2014, they were down 7% from 2007. Target’s transparency in sharing both their successes and their challenges is a hallmark of a company that is committed to real change.

In order to reduce their energy use, Target partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) to pursue Energy Star status for their buildings. Their specific goal was to achieve Energy Star certification for at least 75% of their U.S. buildings by 2015. Energy Star means that buildings must be superior in terms of “efficient energy use, comfort and air quality.”

Shifting targets

When thinking about energy efficient buildings, you may think about LEED certification. So why did Target choose Energy Star as opposed to LEED certification? Both certifications are steps in the right direction. But Energy Star focuses explicitly on the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with buildings (and other things like appliances). LEED is a certification for buildings that offers flexibility in what is evaluated as “environmentally friendly.” A building can become LEED certified and still be relatively energy inefficient compared to similar buildings.

An Energy Star building, by definition, is in the upper 25% for energy efficiency and lower GHGs compared to similar buildings. According to the EPA, an Energy Star building uses an average of 35 percent less energy and is responsible for 35 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than typical buildings. Target kept its eye squarely on the energy and emissions ball.

Target doesn’t just pay lip service to this goal. In 2014, Target was one of just 13 companies nationwide that was recognized by the EPA as an “Energy Star Top Certifier” by exceeding 150 buildings certified in one year. (The actual number was 261.) And 2014 was another milestone year for Target in that it reached 1,000 stores total with the Energy Star status. That makes Target the retailer with the most Energy Star certified buildings in the country. And it puts Target on track to reach its goal of 75% of U.S. stores certified by the end of 2015.

Energy savings in store

Shopping aisle at Target
Image Credit – lori.e.burleson (Flickr)

Target uses a variety of approaches in order to achieve Energy Star status. Because Target stores exist in so many different communities, the company starts by assessing what each particular store needs. For some stores, Target installs solar panels on rooftops to supply anywhere from 15% to 30% of the store’s power needs. In 2014, Target added solar power to 74 new facilities, bringing their total sun-powered sites to 108. They have a goal of 500 stores with solar panels by 2020.

In other stores it may mean using:

  • Low wattage light fixtures
  • Remote energy management systems
  • LED lights and motion sensors in refrigerators, to turn lights off when guests are absent
  • Cool roofs that reflect sunlight
  • Innovative chiller technology that uses less energy and avoids HFCs

Copying the target

You may wonder how Target managed to certify so many stores so quickly. The company says they worked with the EPA to simplify and automate the certification process.  Target worked with the agency to maintain a credible certification process while speeding it up and allowing sign-offs and certifications from the EPA to occur remotely.

Target’s success in fast-tracking ENERGY STAR certifications will likely be copied by other companies who are interested in taking advantage of this approach. And it’s a concrete example of a successful collaboration, aimed at efficiency, between a business and a government agency.

Next target?

When Target meets its goal, some 1,400 stores will be Energy Star certified. It’s an impressive achievement by itself and even more notable because it is just 1 of the 10 environmental goals that Target is pursuing. Target is clear-eyed and committed to addressing the many facets of building a more sustainable business.

From meeting aggressive goals for waste reduction and recycling to conserving more water, Target seems to be in this for the long haul. Even better, Target seems to enjoy stepping up and sharing what it learns with others. If your company wants to up its sustainability game, then Target is definitely one to watch!

Feature image courtesy of Allen (Flickr

By Alison Lueders

Alison Lueders is the Founder and Principal of Great Green Content - a green business certified by both Green America and the Green Business Bureau. She offers copywriting and content marketing services to businesses that are “going green.” Convinced that business can play a powerful and positive role in building a greener, more sustainable economy, she launched Great Green Content in 2011.