By Rich & Amadeus (featured in HMKM Eye #2 - Selling Sustainability)
Q&A - 5 Questions with Country Road Group
CEO of the Country Road Group, Scott Fyfe heads up 5 iconic Australian brands that share a focus on design, quality and sustainability. The CEO and former Marks & Spencer exec delves into how Country Road Group are making their stores sustainable.
Q - How is sustainability playing a role in your approach today?
Sustainability is embedded in everything we do. When you have Generations Y and Z learning about sustainability at school and college, there’s an expectation that sustainability is integrated into your business model and an increasing demand from customers to deliver a more sustainable retail offer. It’s not just a reality, it’s a responsibility. We must act, and we must lead. Our customers are highly engaged in our sustainability journey.
They’re telling us loud and clear, both in our stores and online. Earlier this year, Country Road Group's Traceable Merino Wool campaign (which saw the brand become the first Australian retailer to partner with Oritain to trace the origin of our Merino wool right back to farm level) was our top social media post for engagement of all time. That tells us our customers are engaged and inspired by the journey, and they want to see more.
Q - Before Country Road, you were Director of Menswear & Kidswear at Marks and Spencer in the UK. What’s different about your approach now?
The two businesses differ in that Marks & Spencer is a department store and Country Road Group is a portfolio of brands. But the customer is at the heart of both operations. As we continue to evolve the Country Road Group business, we’ve also been able to implement many of the learnings from my time at Marks & Spencer and my exposure to the UK market. For example, the UK is well ahead of Australia when it comes to digital and online, so we’ve been able to accelerate our digital journey by implementing some of the processes and initiatives in place overseas.
Another key learning, and one that I’m very passionate about, is the focus on sustainability. This was a big issue in the UK some years before it took off in Australia, and I’m proud of the sustainability action we’ve already taken and what’s ahead for Country Road Group in this space.
Q - How are you going ‘‘beyond the norm’’ with your sustainability agenda?
In August 2019, the Country Road store in Melbourne became the first Australian retail fashion store to be awarded a Green Star Design Review rating of five stars, setting a new benchmark for not only sustainable fashion, but sustainable retail. The Country Road Group has a vision for every product to have at least one sustainability attribute by 2020 – the next step for us was to transition this thinking to our in-store environment.
Our five-star flagship store in Melbourne features Australian parquetry flooring recycled from old buildings, fitting room hooks made from ocean plastic, and store fixtures and tables crafted from recycled plastic, all designed to take our sustainability focus to the next level. Our ambition is to take this concept global. Another initiative we’re proud to have introduced this year is to partner with Australia Post to trial a new sustainable satchel made from 80% recycled plastic for all our online deliveries. We removed all plastic bags from our stores many years ago, so looking at our online packaging became the next opportunity for us to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability.
Q - What advice would you give to retail leaders trying to integrate sustainability into their next project?
First and foremost, get on the journey – fast. To be successful in retail in the 21st century you must be thinking and acting with sustainability top of mind. It’s what customers want, and what we as retailers have a responsibility to deliver. If you’re not a sustainability expert or you don’t have sustainability expertise within the team, find some outside help and start the process. Listening to your own team members and customers is a great start – a lot of the ideas we’ve gone on to implement have come from within our own network.
Q - What will ‘‘sustainable retailing’’ look like in 2025?
For me, the future of sustainable retail is all about more sustainable products and stores, a truly circular economy, less packaging and waste, less reliance on water and energy and an online business with a significantly reduced carbon footprint. It’s also critical for retailers to be developing new business models, such as rental. We’ve seen a huge rise in recycled fashion in recent years, and retailers need to find ways to integrate this into their existing operations.
In 2025 my aim is for Country Road Group to have achieved its goal of being the world’s most responsible retailer. To achieve this, we need to first improve traceability and then improve sustainability within our supply chain, so that every stage of the product journey – from farm to factory to distribution center to store to customer – has a reduced impact on the environment. We also need to offer a seamless and sustainable online journey. We need to become leaders in this field because if we don’t, our brands will soon become irrelevant with the next generation of customers. Industry-wide, I believe we all have a role to play in promoting awareness of sustainability and championing change. I’d like to think by 2025 we will have governments supporting and rewarding innovation and achievement in sustainability to help us move the dial.
To read more of our thoughts on Sustainability, check out HMKM Eye #2 - Selling Sustainability: https://rebrand.ly/HMKM_WeLove1