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Sustainable Retail with Lianne Heite

Strategy Director at Havas Lemz (Amsterdam) 


Every other Wednesday, h/commerce provides in-depth analysis of the most impactful trends reshaping retail.

More than ever brands are facing very demanding consumers. They expect a seamless shopping journey as well as strong commitments toward environmental and societal issues.

Consumers tend to choose brands that support them in their journey to a more conscious consumption, giving brands no choice but to take a position and make positive impacts.

In the following interview, Lianne Heite, Strategy Director at Havas Lemz and expert at h/commerce, shares with us her stake on « sustainable retail » and walks us through the ensuing challenges for brands and agencies.

What do customers expect from brands nowadays?

Consumers were already making high demands on the quality of products, services, and shopping convenience. But nowadays, retail brands must exceed those high expectations. They need to have an opinion on our planet and society and are expected to act accordingly. It’s no longer enough to have a positioning, but it’s important to take a position. That way, businesses can meet people’s fast-growing desire to buy from brands that take a stand on environmental and social issues. This is something we see in our
Havas Meaningful Brands Study, but also in studies by other parties, such as Microsoft Advertising Research.

In 2021, what does it mean for a retailer to embrace sustainability?

Embracing sustainability means embracing strategies that have a positive impact on our environment and society. Or maybe it’s better to turn it around: not embracing sustainability means a company is okay with causing environmental damage, social injustice, inequality and ruining the ecosystem in which the company itself operates.

It begins with finding your brand’s purpose beyond profits and then start living by it. Not just superficially, but in a genuine manner. People no longer accept fancy marketing stories only. They look beyond the product and the store window and are increasingly more interested in how a product is sourced, manufactured, packaged, transported and eventually even reused. Transparency on these matters is important and expected these days.

Embracing sustainability is also about being equipped to meet the needs of a younger generation. About showing and proving that you understand them and care for their future – and thereby become more future proof yourself. If you want to get it right, it’s wise to listen to younger people inside and outside your organization.

Finally, making the transition to sustainability is increasingly important in order to attract and retain quality staff that will help build your future business success.

What are the main challenges of this new model of sustainable business?

Casting aside old thinking, old business models and old retail laws. That is both difficult and scary, especially in a world driven by financial targets. That’s why we need new types of targets. Targets that focus on social, cultural, economic and environmental impact.

Another challenge is to make it easy, attractive and affordable for people to buy less, to buy better, to rent, to recycle and so on.

According to you, which brands can be held up as models when it comes to sustainable retail?

IKEA is probably the best example in making sustainability accessible for the many, while growing their business at the same time. They have already taken huge steps and are still very ambitious. They don’t just want to be part of the sustainability movement; they want to lead it. By 2030 they want to enable more than 1 billion people to live a better everyday life within the boundaries of the planet. Also, in 2030 they aim to become circular, climate positive, regenerate resources and create a positive social impact for everyone across the IKEA value chain. And they are very transparent in what they are doing.

But there are many other great examples of successful retail brands embracing sustainability, like Starbucks, H&M, MUD Jeans, COCO-MAT, Fairphone, Hello Fresh, Adidas, Timberland, Nike, Ben & Jerry’s, to name a few.

What is the future of sustainable retail?

I think there is no future without sustainable retail. Companies and brands should play their parts in making sure the children of their clients, employees and suppliers can also live happily on this planet. This is not just a business matter. This involves us as human beings on a personal level. Businesses are expected to – and have the means to lead the way.

And very soon being or becoming sustainable won’t even be enough anymore. It will no longer be about doing no harm, but rather about making a positive impact as well, about restoring ecosystems, reversing climate change and correcting structural inequalities. This will include involving customers and fans in the process. That is what the new class of brand leadership will be, brands that lead change and create movements. The good thing is, they don’t have to do it on their own. Competition is giving way to collaboration and coalitions of brands and organizations.

A smart way to find topics to collaborate on is by looking at the sustainable development goals (SDGs). These are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all people and the world by 2030. Governments of 193 countries worldwide have already agreed to these goals. Now it is time for business to take action.

What does it change for us as agencies?

Agencies should also renew the way they think about and look at brands. Firstly, they should jointly establish what purpose beyond profit brands stand for (BE). Secondly, they should help rethink what products, services and activities derive from that purpose and how these come about (DO). And finally, they have to find ways to communicate this to their target audiences (SAY).

Agencies should be capable to assist brands on a more profound level, by actively helping develop new business models and movements that go beyond the classic retail formula. They should find ways to help brands bring about essential and successful change.

Could you share a sustainability case from Havas Lemz?

A case that touches on multiple levels of sustainability is Jamgarden Amsterdam, which we created for Timberland, an outdoor fashion brand focused on producing responsibly, strengthening communities, and regreening. With its Nature Needs Heroes campaign, Timberland helps to create stronger communities by regreening and inspiring people to protect nature and start regreening as well.


Jamgarden Amsterdam is a city garden made by and for the local community in Reigersbos, a neighborhood in Amsterdam Southeast with lots of creativity, but also deprived of opportunities. Jamgarden Amsterdam offers talented creatives a springboard for a better and greener future. They can now come together, share ideas, and host events – from gardening workshops and poetry slams to live jam sessions. For this urban greening project, we brought together Timberland and Kazerne to drive creativity, diversity, and entrepreneurship in Amsterdam Southeast.

Lianne Heite, Strategy Director at Havas Lemz

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