A sustainable journey: corporate social responsibility is in Ardene’s DNA

A sustainable journey: corporate social responsibility is in Ardene’s DNA

Every business faces the constant challenge of remaining true to its core values, particularly when growing at speed. Over the past 37 years, Canadian apparel retailer Ardene has grown from a single 500 sq ft accessories and jewelry store in Montreal to a network of over 375 stores across North America and beyond. Since the company’s inception, Ardene has had one key principle in mind: to “do good business, while also doing good in the world.”

Today, Ardene is working harder than ever to ensure it is a leader in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainable supply chain practices. In addition to waste reduction strategies, community outreach initiatives and health and wellness programs for its employees, Ardene is currently embarking on an ambitious project to completely map its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, in order to more effectively understand the next phase of its sustainability journey.

We spoke with representatives of Ardene’s CSR team to explore the company’s core sustainability goals: complete GHG mapping, increase supply chain accountability, product innovation and, most importantly, sharing Ardene’s message about a sustainable future. “As a family company with a young workforce, upholding ethical practices is part of our DNA; it is important for us to take care of our people, our customers, and of course the world we live in,” says a representative of Ardene’s CSR team.

With all of the company’s sustainable initiatives rebranded under the name Ardene Collective, the company’s CSR team is emphasizing the fact that sustainability “will not be a simple effort, but will require that we all continue to shift our frame of mind and daily thinking as one collective team”. Ardene organizes its sustainability initiatives into four pillars: People, which includes the wellness of its workforce, including extended partners; Planet, which covers recycling, waste, energy and water; Product, which deals with merchandise, packaging and supply chain efforts; and Policies, which includes compliance and certifications.

“Because of our presence and brand awareness, we have the opportunity to bring about big changes with regard to sustainability,” says Ardene’s representative. “We already have programs we’re proud of, like community engagement, our garden, the end of single use plastic and Styrofoam, store hanger re-use programs and more. But we’re ready to make an even bigger impact.” These changes range from small-scale steps, like replacing plastic water bottles with boxed water in stores and offices, to large-scale operations like analysing the company’s entire supply chain to be more sustainable and efficient. 

“In the past it was very easy, especially in the fashion world: you need it, you ship it. Today, one of our first thoughts is: ‘How can we do this better? How can we create fewer emissions from our transportation?’” explains Ardene’s representative. “We’ve already scaled back and consolidated all our shipments in order to optimize the movement of merchandise. Now our products move as directly as possible from the source to the end store, and we have dedicated weekly shipping days. Air freight has also been decreased tremendously through smarter planning, as well as vessel shipments and trucking.” Furthermore, all of Ardene’s international shipments now travel directly from the company’s vendors to their destinations, drastically reducing the company’s carbon emissions.

In order to fully understand and further reduce its carbon footprint today, Ardene is mapping its GHG emissions according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a set of standards employed by 90% of Fortune 500 companies. Ardene believes that full knowledge of its supply chain will help combat the unsustainable elements inherent in the apparel industry.

Additionally, the company has partnered with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a global alliance of retailers, brands, suppliers, advocacy groups, labour unions and academics that aims to mitigate the environmental impact of the industry. “This alliance can help us make real change in our company and our supply chain. The SAC offers tools, such as the HIGG Index, that enable brands, retailers and facilities of all sizes – at every stage in their sustainability journey – to accurately measure and score a company or product’s sustainability performance,” says Ardene’s representative.

“If you go back even a hundred years, there hasn’t been a lot of progress in the process of garment construction, which still tends to be very resource- and labour-intensive work. In the past, many companies didn’t have any social or environmental record of what vendors overseas were doing. Now, Ardene has systems in place to ensure our factories are socially and environmentally compliant, and we continue to improve these through our partnerships with the SAC and others. We have a code of conduct and conduct audits,” says Ardene’s representative. “Next, we’re looking at raw materials and packaging too. We have begun the process of product and packaging innovation, whether in the fabrics and material choices we make or the way we package goods.”

Ardene also works to ensure its positive impact on the world through the Ardene Foundation, a division of the brand dedicated to enacting positive change across the globe. Ardene has donated over 1mn units of apparel and footwear and raised over CA$4mn for various charitable organizations.

“We work with multiple charitable organizations both at home and abroad to ensure our customers and staff understand that giving back and doing good is a hands-on part of our culture. Whether it be in areas of empowerment, poverty, education and health, we leverage the strength of our communities and try hard to shape a better world,” says Ardene’s representative. In select stores and through its site, Ardene sells its line of biodegradable, eco-friendly shoes, which are made from antibacterial, moisture-wicking and pesticide-free bamboo rayon. The company continues to grow its selection of sustainable products under the name Ardene Collective.

Ardene recently launched a donation box program in select stores, where customers can ensure gently used clothing and shoes avoid landfills. The business also continues its policy of refusing to incinerate post-season clothing and continually donates used products to charities at home and abroad. According to a CSR representative, the company’s next steps are to partner with upcycling organizations that turn used merchandise into raw material to be re-used, further decreasing waste.

Looking back over the past decade, Ardene has made great strides along its sustainability journey. Looking forward to the future, the company is hitting the ground running. Ardene’s representative concludes: “Our sustainability and CSR efforts are an ongoing journey. In the short term, we will continue with our new and existing initiatives, the largest being our greenhouse gas emissions mapping and reduction, and our efforts in supply chain accountability, product innovation and education. In the future, we foresee more sustainable raw materials in our products, a closed loop through increased upcycling initiatives, sustainable building initiatives and more. We are optimistic about the future.”