The biggest luxury department store in the Emirate is leading the way in eco and ethical retailing. By Rae Ritchie
When the largest retail space in Dubai opened in Festival City earlier this year shoppers rejoiced. Here was even more women’s fashion, this time in Robinsons department store. But as well as 20,000 square metres over three floors, there was also something here for the green fingered among us as the store also had distinctive walls – which were vertical gardens.
Designed by botanist Patrick Blanc, they are not only beautiful but emphasise Robinsons’ sustainability commitment. ‘I’m proud to be associated with a brand which is bringing an eco-friendly consciousness to life as part of its store environment in the Middle East,’ Blanc said.
The first Robinsons department store opened in Singapore in 1858 but the company recognises 21st Century concerns for the planet. It is now part of the Al-Futtaim group, who claim their biggest goal is their ‘continuing effort to become totally sustainable. ‘We strive to promote sustainability for us, for the lives we touch, and the environment we live in’.
Al-Futtiam’s Fashion and Department Store manager, Thierry Provost, regards the project with Patrick Blanc as a fundamental part of this commitment, describing it as ‘essential to the development of our brand’s eco ethos’.
The garden walls are an important symbolic gesture, representing Al-Futtaim’s corporate social responsibility with regards to the environment.
It is vital that luxury department stores such as Robinsons make these kinds of declarations because they have the potential to lead the way when it comes to sustainable retailing.
Much of the discussion around eco and ethical consumption concentrates on small scale producers and boutiques who are personally dedicated to developing an alternative system.
They certainly have a valuable role to play in instigating change and are pioneering many great initiatives but we shouldn’t overlook the potential of multi-brand retailers who are significant players on the global stage. Not only do they have influence with the brands they stock to encourage best (or even simply better) practice, they can introduce products and ideas to their many customers who may not consider themselves ethical consumers.
Luxury department stores can showcase both the challenges facing people and planet and the potential solutions. Increasingly they are doing so, albeit to varying degrees.
The IGDS – Intercontinental Group of Department Stores, the world’s largest such association – includes the environment in its CSR guidelines and last year introduced a sustainability award.
The winner of this inaugural accolade was Selfridges, the iconic store on London’s Oxford Street. The company is a leader in this field. One example is their 2015 Project Ocean campaign, where they stopped the sale of single-use plastic bottles and created a water bar that gave customers the opportunity to sample filtered tap water instead. Working with other partners, this has now led to a wider campaign to make London single-use plastic water bottle free.
The store also runs a series of workshops created by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and have recently introduced Buying Better Labelling, where the product labels for almost 40 brands include details of their sustainable elements.
Yet others are also raising the bar. The Galeries Lafayette group has a number of clearly defined ethical goals. By 2030, for instance, they want 100 per cent of their waste to be recycled. At present, the figure stands at 41 per cent.
Interestingly, the previous Vice President of International Development at Galeries Lafayette – the largest department store in the Dubai area – was Thierry Provost, who is now Al-Futtaim’s Fashion and Department Store manager, indicating that individuals still have a place in sharing good practice across the industry. Department stores, like other companies, can and should learn from one another’s experiences.
Moreover, increasing commitment to sustainability by one department store can and should encourage others to follow suit, particularly if they recognise the commercial advantage in appealing to the growing numbers of ethically conscious consumers.