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“Sustainability is important for Åhlens. We want to contribute to a better society and lessen our impact on people, animals and nature,” says Anita Falkenek, sustainability manager at Åhlens, a leading department store chain in Sweden and Norway.

“The new Åhlens On the Road strategy makes sustainability one of five main aspects of a new business model with updated and new decision-making processes, metrics and descriptions of responsibilities.”

Sustainability strategy

“Our sustainability strategy covers our offering, our production, operations, and community involvement. The focus is put on product quality and durability that in turn enables us to work with these issues in a more systematic and integrated way. There are many challenges along the way, but we have a clear and active strategy to improve gradually,” says Falkenek.

“The basic idea is that our products should last, otherwise they will have been produced in vain. We therefore have a variety of tools and techniques to systematically work with products. We have also adopted clear purchasing guidelines, common processes and monitoring to continually improve our products.”

A good choice

ahlens2“Important to the strategy is to make it easier for consumers to choose sustainable products and parts of our range are marked with the green-colored ‘Good Choice’ (Bra Val) label. The proportion of green goods increases daily and our buyers are continuously looking for new materials and production methods to lessen human and environmental impact,” says Falkenek. “We have divided the ‘Good Choice’ label into six different categories.” They include:

Recycled

Products wholly or mainly made of recycled materials. The raw materials come from production processes or waste. Using recycled materials saves the earth’s resources and contributes to a more sustainable economy. Åhlens want these products to be certified according to the Global Recycled Standard or Recycled Content Standard.

Social responsibility

Products designed with respect for those who work on farms and in factories. All employees should be adequately paid and work in a reasonable environment. At Åhlens, these goods are certified by independent organizations such as Fairtrade.

Organic

Organic means that the raw materials or ingredients are grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers. This contributes to a better environment and is positive for the health of the people who work and live nearby. Åhlens only approves products certified by established organic certification organizations.

Tencel

Textile products containing at least 50 percent Tencel® (lyocell). Tencel is a textile fiber made of wood cellulose fibers – a renewable resource – and where production methods have limited environmental impact. The cellulose in Tencel comes from fast growing trees.

Eco-labeled

Åhlens only approves products that are reviewed and approved by Svanen, Bra Miljöval, and the EU-blomman rating systems. Furthermore, wood and paper products are certified by the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council).

The Asthma & Allergy Foundation

To help consumers avoid products containing perfumes or irritants there are products that qualify under the criteria of the Asthma & Allergy Foundation and which are flagged as ‘Good Choice’ at Åhlens.

In October 2014, Åhlens’ ‘Good Choice’ products accounted for 6 percent of sales, compared with 4.4 percent in 2012. The target is to reach 10 percent in 2015.

A sustainable home

“You can make many more sustainable choices than you think. Our ‘Good Choice’ range has now grown so wide that you can choose sustainable products for any room in your home. We decorated a 42 m2 century-old apartment in Stockholm with ‘Good Choice’ labeled items. You can visit the apartment through the Åhlens website.”

“We offered free overnight stays in the apartment and it soon became fully booked. The interest in ‘Good Choice’ and a more sustainable lifestyle is obviously huge,” says Falkenek.

Focus on production and operation

“Matters concerning production and operations are important to our sustainability strategy.” Here are some examples:

For several years, Åhlens has been involved with the BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative), which is about ensuring good working conditions in factories where Åhlens produces private label products. Åhlens also contributes to safer factory facilities through participation in the Accord for Bangladesh initiative. Work has also begun to contribute to reducing the environmental impact of the supply chain through the participation in BEPI, (Business Environmental Performance Initiative).

Since January 2013, Åhlens has been a member of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a global organization that aims to reduce environmental impact and improve the working conditions and lives of cotton farmers and their families. Through this membership, Åhlens will contribute to increased volumes of durable cotton on the world market, proportionate to its total sales of cotton.

In conjunction with the redevelopment of its department stores, Åhlens has adopted new monitoring systems to lessen energy usage and installed LED lighting. Environmental work, finances, and monitoring are expected to get an extra boost with a central procurement system for waste services in more than 30 stores. In addition, 77 stores have appointed a trained sustainability ambassador to locally run sustainability work and answer questions from customers.

This article was published in November 2014