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At a time where single-use gloves, masks, wipes, and bags are at a record high, it’s time to step back and review the other important responsibilities: responsibility to our planet, and responsibility to our communities. Here are 3 Canadian companies doing it right.

Aritzia

The Hill family started Aritzia inside their 70-year-old department store in Vancouver. When Brian Hill opened the first standalone boutique in 1984, the idea was simple: offer beautiful clothes in aspirational spaces with exceptional service.

In 2017, they conducted a more comprehensive assessment of their business to benchmark their social and environmental risks and impacts. This analysis included three areas:

  • A materiality assessment of their operations, including supply chain partners.      
  • A labour and human rights assessment of their global supply chain.
  • An Environmental Organizational Lifecycle Assessment (OLCA) for emissions, water use and waste generation.

Since then, Aritzia has improved its practices in their products and operations, as well as continuing to grow its giving program through donations.

Most recently, they’ve eliminated all plastic from online sales, reduced water and chemical use by sourcing organic denim, and pledged to avoid sending ships through at-risk habitats of the Arctic.

Aritzia monitors its operations under the UN’s Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. Most recently, they partnered with the ILO-IFC Better Work Program, which supports labour rights and decent working conditions at all of its facilities.

It also monitors its environmental impact using the Higg Facility Environmental Module, which evaluates energy management, water, effluent, chemicals, energy, emissions, and waste.

J. C. Williams Group Expert Comment

Instead of providing obfuscated and unsupported language about environmental and social impacts, Aritzia has chosen to partner with globally recognized standards wherever possible, granting a huge amount of credibility. Their goal to create quality product that endures well beyond one or two seasons sets them apart within the high-impact clothing industry.

Clearly

A pioneer in online shopping, Clearly launched its first site in 2000 selling contact lenses. Within a few years, they began offering a curated selection of designer glasses and sunglasses as well — driven by a passion to bring prescription eyewear to people who often found it out of reach.

Clearly has joined forces with the Essilor Vision Foundation to help bring improved sight to millions through their Buy One, Give One initiative: for every pair of glasses bought, they donate a pair of glasses to someone in need.

To help manage the challenge of ordering glasses online, Clearly has remained on top of emerging technologies, first with the MyFit questionnaire, which takes the measurements of your current pair of glasses to help fit you for new ones, and more recently, the ability to “try” glasses on virtually: the website accesses your laptop or mobile device camera and adds the selected glasses on your face as a special effect.

Clearly was named one of Canada’s Best Workplaces for its commitment to a welcome and inclusive culture where employees can feel heard. This was awarded to them by Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace cultures.

In 2020, Clearly donated its advertising budget to Reclaim the Block, an organization dedicated to racial justice. The company also shared a number of links to related organizations and encouraged its customers to donate as well.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, Clearly donated 1,000 safety glasses to the Vancouver Coastal Health network, and later donated 60,000 face shields to the Canadian Federal Government.

J. C. Williams Group Expert Comment

Clearly streamlines the process of purchasing glasses. Purchasing glasses from a physical store requires multiple trips (at least one to pick glasses out, and one to pick them up once they are ready). With Clearly, there is only one step to purchasing, and when your purchase means a pair for someone in need (at no cost to you), buying glasses online is a no brainer.

Canadian Tire

The Hilles brothers started Canadian Tire as a tire company in Toronto, 1922. They introduced an innovation that delighted generations of Toronto shoppers: clerks on roller skates who raced to fill orders.

Since then, Canadian Tire has expanded its assortment and spread to 1,700 retail locations across Canada and has become a staple in the Canadian retail landscape.

In 2003, Canadian Tire introduced the now widespread store layout, which groups products by categories; Driving, Playing, Living, and Fixing, so even entering a new location feels familiar and welcoming.

In 1999, the Canadian Tire Foundation for Families (now Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities) was launched to provide help to families in need. It has donated more than $28 million. In 2005 when it became Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, it shifted its focus to help kids in financial need participate in sports and recreation. 2015 marked the one millionth kid helped by this program. In 2017, Canadian Tire committed $50 million over five years to help Canadian children with disabilities access sport and play.

Canadian Tire has set a goal to reduce emissions by 22% by 2022. Here are initiatives included in reaching that goal:

  • In 2017, Canadian Tire partnered with Canadian Pacific Railway to develop North America’s first 60-foot intermodal carrier.
  • Monitoring packaging using the Structural Packaging Test, which reduces the amount of packaging needed to minimize damage.
  • In 2017, Canadian Tire initialized a program to retrofit its stores with LED lighting, which should reduce each store’s current lighting usage of 30%-50%
  • Their Bolton Distribution Centre was awarded the LEED Gold certification, which recognizes sustainable building. In particular, this location includes a remediation and storm water management system and drought tolerant landscaping.

Donated $5 million to Canada’s frontline workers, $1M to Canadian Red Cross, $1M to United Way Centraide Canada, and $3M in personal protective equipment.

Associate Dealers under the Canadian Tire banner have donated 160,000 masks, 164,000 pairs of gloves, and 20,000 litres of hand sanitizer to local hospitals and nursing homes in need.

Sales of the N95 and ASTM certified masks were halted so the product could be redirected to frontline healthcare workers.

J. C. Williams Group Expert Comment

The individual stores are encouraged to act as community beacons, lending their space and position in town centres for services such as motorboat and fishing license kiosks or welcoming volunteers of the Red Cross to collect donations at the doors. The company’s branding, private labels, and community programs all speak to a Canadian-only experience. The Canadian consumer can feel like an afterthought to brands that arrive from outside the country, so Canadian Tire has applied its branding appropriately to emphasize Canadian lifestyles. A trip to Canadian Tire is an experience passed on through generations.