Most Influential Projects 2021

31 Project Earth

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For reinventing retail through sustainable shopping

Executives at luxury department store Selfridges aren’t content for the store’s influence to stop at style trends. They also want the U.K. retailer to lead the way on sustainability, bucking the status quo in an industry that—through its supply chain and other operations—has a historically large carbon footprint. By collaborating with brands and environmental changemakers including the Woodland Trust and WWF, Selfridges is advancing a bold five-year plan to highlight how the fashion biz as a whole can deliver real positive social impact.

"We’re in such an amazing position to influence those brands that we work with," said Alannah Weston, Selfridges group chair, at the project launch in August 2020. "Through those conversations, we’re able to change the industry."

With , Selfridges has committed to transitioning to certified, sustainable sources for those materials with the greatest environmental impact by 2025. For instance, all feathers used in products such as duvets and eyelash extensions will be byproducts of poultry production. In the first year, Selfridges bestowed its Project Earth label on 9,000 products, meaning they meet the company’s sustainability requirements.

The team also analyzed sustainability feedback from more than 600 suppliers, leading to new partnerships and new products. Case in point: The team worked with Prada to debut the Italian fashion giant’s expanded line of garments using Econyl, a textile made by upcycling nylon waste such as fishing nets and carpets.

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"This collection will allow us to make our contribution and create productions without using new resources," said Lorenzo Bertelli, Prada’s group head of marketing, at launch.

To get the word out, Selfridges hosted Project Earth virtual events that attracted 157,000 views. The retailer also spun customer feedback into new shopping experiences, such as clothing rental and repair services. Within a year of launch, the store had sold more than 1,000 refillable beauty products, while the Resellfridges online resale shop boasted more than 7,000 transactions.

Each element of Project Earth is a ripple in a tidal wave of "radical action in response to the climate crisis," said Daniella Vega, director of sustainability for Selfridges. Selfridges aims to reduce the carbon impact of purchased goods by 30 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 64 percent by 2030.

All those efforts are paying off—and customers are taking notice: 60 percent see the retailer as an industry leader for sustainability. "Sustainability is—it’s the right thing to do … but it also makes business sense," Weston said.