Corporate social responsibility: How ANN INC. does well by doing good

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2013 NRF Annual Convention & EXPO‘Tis the season for giving, and retailers are ramping up cause-related campaigns to support their favorite charitable organizations. But for many retailers, giving back is simply ingrained in the way they do business year-round.

Ahead of her appearance on a keynote panel at Retail’s BIG Show next month, we reached out to Jeannette Ferran Astorga, ANN INC.’s VP of Corporate Social Responsibility, to talk about how her company makes product donations an important part of their business strategy. ANN INC., which includes the Ann Taylor and LOFT brands, partners with Good360, an organization that helps companies with the logistics of efficiently getting donations to the non-profit organizations that need them.

Read on to find out what ANN INC. gets by giving, and how they ensure their customers can feel good about what they buy.

Jeannette Ferran Astorga, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility, ANN INC.

There are numerous business benefits to CSR, but there’s also a feel-good aspect of working to make a positive impact on the environment and the community. Tell us about one project that you’ve personally found most memorable.

ANN INC. is a company for women. Our client base is 100% women, 93% of our associates are women and our CEO is a woman. Our company is passionate about women’s issues and this makes my job very easy…our associates are committed to CSR, responsible business practices and making a positive impact on the communities we touch and serve. I am most proud of the launch of our CSR website, ResponsiblyANN.com, since it allows us to share our CSR story and journey with our clients and business partners. ANN INC. is a fantastic organization with strong values and the website provides insight into how we uphold our values throughout our operations, supply chain and in the communities we serve.

Global retail supply chains are a very complex thing to manage. When it comes to building a greener and ethical supply chain, what strategies, technologies or tactics have you found most effective in helping you meet your goals?

ANN INC.’s supply chain is complex and connects companies and workers from across the globe to provide the materials and labor to make the products our clients love. Our clients genuinely care about the conditions under which Ann Taylor and LOFT products are manufactured and our impact on the environment. Therefore, we are committed to incorporating our high standards for social and environmental performance into every step of the process, from responsibly sourcing raw materials to selling the garment at our stores. Our suppliers are expected to drive high performance standards and we work only with suppliers that share our commitments and values.

Our impact on the environment is also a focus for ANN INC. and we have made changes across the supply chain to minimize our packaging footprint. We continually work with our suppliers on new initiatives to drive environmental sustainability in our product supply chain and share updates on our CSR website, ResponsiblyANN.com.

Since we’re in the midst of the holiday season, let’s talk about giving. Tell us a little bit about ANN INC.’s approach to product donations.

We have a strong and passionate purpose-driven culture at ANN INC. Our corporate giving program, ANN Cares, focuses on several distinct areas, including the needs of women, children, associates and the environment. To support product donations, we have partnered with Good360 to launch ANNCares360, a program that ensures that our products are able to reach these key groups.

Through our ANNCares360 program, Good360 is able, through its technology, to communicate to organizations within its network of more than 33,000 nonprofit organizations. The benefit for nonprofits is clear – they are able to keep their expenses down by using donated products – this means they can focus more of their energy and finances on programs and advancing their missions. Our stores benefit by keeping their backrooms clear of items no longer in use and our store associates are empowered to help their local communities by donating items to help people in need. The benefits do not end there – our ANNCares360 program creates a new path for products and keeps them out of landfills, which ultimately benefits all of us.

What’s your top piece of advice for retailers getting started with a product donation program?

Contact Good360! Our colleagues at Good360 have been fantastic partners and act like an extension of our own corporate social responsibility (CSR) team. They helped us design and build a program which aligned with our objectives and supported our goals.

What trends are you noticing in the field of CSR? How do you think these trends will evolve the role of CSR executives over the next several years?

The focus on CSR is increasing and there is greater awareness from the consumer. This trend will continue, especially with the growth of industry groups such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a key initiative driving the standardization of how sustainability is measured across the apparel industry in order to make the performance of products more visible to the consumer.

What do you love about working in the retail industry?

I have worked in the retail industry over 15 years and I have most enjoyed the years I have spent leading corporate social responsibility in our sector. In CSR, we have an opportunity everyday to connect with our clients and drive programs that align with her values. In retail, CSR goes beyond just sale…you make an emotional connection with your client and align your values with her values. That is true customer service!

Want to learn more about how product giving is a win-win for retailers? Watch Jeannette Ferran Astorga at Retail’s BIG Show, Jan. 13 to 16 in New York City.

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