Social impact, brand purpose and environmental influence are all driving decisions for consumers and employees alike. In a global survey of 30,000 consumers, Accenture Strategy found that 63% of consumers prefer to purchase from purpose-driven brands. Meanwhile, McKinsey found in its survey of managers and frontline employees in the U.S. that 72% believe purpose should come before profits.
However, organizations are quickly learning that “purpose” goes far beyond marketing. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental social governance (ESG) should align with strategic business outcomes and have clear, measurable goals in place that drive consumer, shareholder and stakeholder value. Carter’s is one brand that is reaffirming its commitment to CSR by publishing its strategic ESG priorities and initiatives in a robust report.
Rooted in Carter’s purpose to inspire generations of parents, the brand is creating transparency throughout its ongoing CSR journey and is detailing its commitments across:
- People, which emphasizes Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) as well as a commitment to supporting local communities;
- Planet, which encompasses sustainability targets and progress; and
- Product, which highlights how the brand is embracing sustainability and transparency across the value chain.
In a recent interview with Retail TouchPoints, Antonio Robinson, SVP of Corporate Social Responsibility outlined the brand’s key milestones and how it is aligning as an organization to drive positive change.
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): You have been in your current role at Carter’s for slightly more than two years. How has Carter’s vision and intention for CSR evolved over this time?
Antonio Robinson: Throughout my time at Carter’s, we have pursued environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) efforts to strengthen our company. With the support from our Board, CEO, other executives and company leaders, we developed a multi-year strategy named “Raise the Future,” which is aligned with our company’s purpose. We have already advanced several ESG initiatives that we believe create value for our stakeholders. With our second annual CSR report, we go into detail on how we are continuing to evolve our strategy and make progress with our goals.
RTP: It was noted in the CSR report that the company’s efforts are rooted in its brand purpose, which is to inspire generations of parents. How do you and the broader executive team play a role in activating that purpose across channels and initiatives?
Robinson: At Carter’s, we seek to inspire the generations raising the future and continue to make important advancements to further our progress surrounding our sustainability, community and environmental objectives.
Our business is focused on babies and kids, so the progress and goals we’re putting forth about supporting future generations are consistent with our core values and we believe our business will benefit by positively impacting our communities, our employees and our planet.
RTP: To that end, your CSR results were broken down by people, planet and product. Is there an established process for identifying opportunities or priorities within these areas?
Robinson: Yes, it has always been important to drive our business forward, enhance our community impact and reduce our environmental footprint. These three pillars have been an equal focus for our annual CSR reports, as we aim to make strides in important advancements as part of our holistic business.
RTP: Has Carter’s developed a company-wide process for aligning, measuring and improving upon these CSR goals and initiatives? How do you ensure that all team members collectively rally around them?
Robinson: Our Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee provides Board oversight for our ESG efforts. We also have an ESG Council that is comprised of leaders throughout the company. The council supports me in prioritizing our ESG efforts and integrating our ESG efforts into the overall business strategy.
In addition to the work of the ESG Council, we have developed an internal communication strategy that includes regular town hall updates and a dedicated CSR newsletter.
RTP: Carter’s nearly doubled the diversity of its senior leadership between 2020 and 2021. How do you support diverse recruitment and positive progression within the organization?
Robinson: We’re proud of the significant strides we’ve made in D&I, including nearly doubling racial and ethnic diversity at the vice president levels from 13% to 23%. We are consistently recognized as a top employer for women and for new graduates. As we look ahead, we’re committed to developing a supplier diversity program to support women and minority-owned businesses.
We employ a number of methods to develop our workforce, including a long-standing mentor program and other leadership development programs. Regarding recruitment, in 2021, we expanded partnerships with organizations that help us uphold our commitment to diverse slates.
RTP: How are you supporting local communities and families?
Robinson: We believe that every baby and young child deserves an opportunity to be successful regardless of their zip code. We are pledging to improve the well-being of at least 10 million families by 2030. In 2021, we positively impacted 2 million children and families by investing, with our employees and consumers, $10 million in community philanthropic activities.
RTP: What next steps are you taking to reach your Net Zero goals?
Robinson: We’re proud of our pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 in our direct operations. The net-zero pledge is significant because it puts us on a trajectory of doing our part to combat climate change for future generations.
RTP: How does this tie to product development and innovation? Is there a path for making organic cotton and more sustainable product development core to your entire brand product portfolio versus a separate line?
Robinson: In 2021, through our Little Planet brand, we introduced products made from recycled polyester products. We’re continuing to foster expansion of our sustainable product offerings by growing our eco-friendly Little Planet brand. In addition to Little Planet as a brand, we also leverage the learnings from an R&D perspective for our core brands. Moreover, we remain committed to using more sustainable materials in our core brands.
RTP: Have there been any key learnings over the past year as far as setting and implementing a vision for CSR in retail? What takeaways would you share with fellow executives?
Robinson: To establish a credible, business-aligned strategy, I believe it’s important to first conduct a materiality assessment. And before setting goals, I think it’s wise to assess the existing ESG-related efforts occurring within the company, and the availability and quality of ESG-related data. I believe these two meaningful steps have been helpful in setting our goals and making the progress we communicated in our recent CSR report.