How can retailers minimize their carbon footprints? By walking together and supporting the brands that are leading the way, says the pan-European retailer network ORCC.

In the spring of 2021, Matthias Gebhard, CEO of the mountain-sports retailer Bergfreunde, had an informal discussion about sustainability with Bergzeit’s CEO Martin Stolzenberger, another well-known retailer in the same arena. They both agreed: why not join forces on climate action by making a pledge together and inviting more retailers to join?

“Martin and I knew that our companies are sharing similar strategies and challenges in the different scopes of our operations. And we agreed that the only way to reach our long-term goals was to choose the right suppliers to work together with. Because in a retailer’s supply chain, the vast majority of emissions stem from the products.”

At the same time, they recognized that many brands were getting overloaded with administrative tasks as retailers demand more and more data and information about sustainability performance.

“If we would collaborate and set common goals and standards, both us retailers and our suppliers would save a lot of time and resources.”

Afterwards, they began reaching out through their personal network and addressed top management. Who else might be interested in this project, with the working title Outdoor Retailer Climate Commitment?

“If you can establish such an idea on the CEO-level, you will get results. And even though we are tough competitors, we respect and trust each other. The next step was to involve the sustainability experts to start laying out the plans.”

“It was like an immediate snowball-effect. Very soon, we were five companies, with branches in around ten countries and sales in even more through our online shops.”

From five to ten retailers

Melanie Grünwald, Head of Sustainability at Yonderland since January 2021, was one of these experts. Among consumers, the name Yonderland is not very familiar, but the retailers under this company’s banner are: The well-known retailers Bever in the Netherlands, Cotswold Outdoor, Snow+Rock and Runners Need in the United Kingdom and Ireland and A.S. Adventure and Juttu in Belgium, France and Luxemburg. In total, there are nearly 200 stores under Yonderland’s umbrella.

When the company received the invitation, the timing was perfect, Melanie Grünwald recalls.

“Our company was in the process of assessing scope 1 and 2 together with our sustainability consultants. We had set our long-term goals, aiming at carbon neutrality by

2025 for Scope 1 and Scope 2 and to meet the Paris Agreement for all scopes by 2030,” says Melanie Grünwald and continues:

“Making a public statement together with other large retailers in our industry would give credibility to our targets and provide accountability for everyone involved.”

The retailers Internet Stores and Sportler also joined. In spring 2022, five more European companies came onboard (see fact box).

“Other retailers are also interested, which is great. But first we need to get more structure. We are thus far a grassroots organization without any administrative layer. And it is important to remember that ORCC is not a consumer or marketing initiative – we want to create change within the industry,” explains Matthias Gebhard.

Next steps for climate commitment

Matthias Gebhard and Melanie Grünwald explain that each member of ORCC needs to do their homework. To change to renewable energy, switch to LED lightning, phase out single use plastics, put solar panels on the rooftops, support bike commuting, investigate better solutions for air conditioning etc.

“We are not starting from the same point, some of us have worked with this for many years, and others have just started. How each member company will act is individual – but we can hopefully share best practices, avoid pitfalls, and learn from each other,” says Matthias Gerber.

However, the biggest leverage will be if the ORCC retailers can align with the major brands the group is working with.

“Even though we at Yonderland still don’t have any exact numbers of the greenhouse emissions in our supply chain, we estimate that 60-70 percent of our total footprint comes from the products we buy and sell,” says Melanie Grünwald.

“Yes, we absolutely need to get the brands onboard. You must remember that we are not a cartel, and we are not legally allowed to jointly demand anything from our vendors. But we can give them the certainty that a group of retailers are going in the same direction, and will support them on their decarbonization journey,” explains Matthias Gerber.

It is only a matter of time before retailers start to take the carbon emissions from their brands and products into consideration, Melanie Grünwald shares.

“That is our scope 3, and we have committed to address it. Within Yonderland, it could be that we will set carbon budgets for our buyers, as a way to reach our climate goals. Then our buyers will need such data from our suppliers. And we will be able to identify where our hotspots are and how to avoid them.”

“At the same time, with more knowledge about the products, we can also reward the ones that perform best, for instance through our sustainability label Our Planet.”

Matthias Gerber says that so far, most brands have reacted positively to the ORCC initiative.

“Many of course already have their climate strategies – and now they can be sure that we support them. Because of course, economic viability is an important aspect of climate action; as a company, you have to cover the costs.”

“But the beauty of it is that climate action can lead to better finances. Who wants to spend money on shipping boxes full of air and a tiny product shipped across the world? The first 20–30 percent of CO2 reductions are usually cheap – or even save money!”

Melanie Grünwald also points out another group that has reacted positively to the ORCC: The employees.

“Our employees want to work for a company that takes its sustainability responsibilities seriously and has a clear path to improve on them.”

The retailers within Yonderland label their most sustainable products with Our Planet. In the upcoming version, climate reduction will be assessed and rewarded.

Outdoor Retailer Climate Commitment Members

  • Bergzeit
  • Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports
  • Engelhorn
  • Internet Stores
  • Schuster
  • Sport Conrad
  • Sportler
  • Sportpursuit
  • Yonderland


Photos: Yonderland

Gabriel Arthur
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