Target's Sustainability Goals Include Going Net-Zero

The retailer plans to have all the plastic packaging for its brands recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025.

Customers carry bags as they leave a Target store May 15, 2006 in Albany, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

From in-store vertical farming to investments in electric vehicle charging, U.S. retail giant Target has already made some not insignificant moves toward a cleaner way of doing business. These efforts may have been inspired by founder, George Draper Dayton who, according to a company press release, was espousing some fairly warm fuzzy words about corporate responsibility nearly 90 years ago: 

“Success is making ourselves useful in the world, valuable to society, helping in lifting the level of humanity, so conducting ourselves that when we go, the world will be somewhat better of our having lived the brief span of our lives.”

That all sounds pretty good. Yet just like any Big Box store selling everything from toys to Tupperware to fast fashion, the company has a long, long way to go before it can truly claim to live up to such values.  

Target has, however, just taken a fairly significant step in the right direction—unveiling a set of goals and commitments under an overall banner of Target Forward. Those commitments include:  

  • 60% renewable electricity for its own operations by 2025 and 100% by 2030
  • 50% absolute reduction in operations emissions by 2030 and 30% reduction in supply chain emissions by the same date 
  • A 20% reduction in virgin plastics for own-brand plastic packaging by 2025

The commitments also include a goal of net-zero emissions by 2040 across Scopes 1, 2, and 3—meaning it includes the emissions from the products Target sells. And while the 2040 end date for that push is a long, long way away—and inadequate when considering the horrific heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest this week—it does betray perhaps the most interesting and important thing about this initiative.

A large chunk of what Target is talking about doing is less to do with the store’s operations itself, and more to do with pushing retail suppliers to cut their emissions too. By 2025, for example, Target is committing to “engage suppliers to prioritize renewable energy and collaborate on solutions that protect, sustain and restore nature,” and by 2023 the company will push for 80% of suppliers by spend to set science-based scope 1 and scope 2 targets. 

These commitments—especially if matched by other retailers—really could help push expectations among manufacturers in general that aggressive renewable energy targets are not just nice to have, but rather they are increasingly a prerequisite for doing business. 

Of course, under this capitalist system of ours, that still leaves the question of how selling consumer goods at relatively low cost can ever be considered sustainable. And here it would be nice to see more detail on what Target is really going to do. The company is promising to have 100% of its owned brands to be “designed for a circular economy” by 2040—meaning eliminating waste, using materials that are regenerative, recycled, or sourced sustainably, and creating products that are more durable, easily repaired, or recyclable.

This last part feels a long, long way off in a world where our environmental crises are accelerating rapidly. However, as we’ve seen from other corporations reaching renewables goals early, these commitments can take on a life of their own.