Overheard At NRF: Sustainability Is What’s Keeping Retailers Awake At Night

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The National Retail Federation, or NRF, held its annual Big Show live and in-person at New York City’s Javits Center a little more than a week ago. As you can imagine, the conversations were remarkably different this year than they were two years ago, the last time the conference was held live. The main topic on everyone’s mind in January of 2020—pre-Covid--was “how can we compete with Amazon?” This year, there was a great deal of focus on inflation, the labor market, and supply chain.

But the most intriguing topic that kept coming up again and again was sustainability and how to navigate the various opportunities and challenges it presents.

It should come as no surprise that the concept of sustainability has been driven primarily by the consumer. Yes, Patagonia and a few other brands have been pioneers in this field and should get the credit they deserve for representing the gold standard in conscious consumerism. Yet it’s the consumer—specifically the Gen Z consumer—who has taken the sustainability conversation to the next level. One of First Insight’s recent reports found that the Gen Z consumer has outsize influence on not only their Gen X parents but even their Boomer and older grandparents when it comes to finding alternative, more sustainable shopping formats. By 2030, Gen Z will represent 27% of the world’s income, surpassing Millennials by 2031. This generation votes with their wallets for brands that support their own values and causes. Brands and retailers today are clearly paying attention.

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