5 Surprising Big Name Brands Promoting Sustainability

picture of man with Target grocery cart - article on sustainability initiatives at big box stores

The times, they are a’changin’, and it’s such a wonderful sight to see.

Just a few years ago, you couldn’t get a cup of fair trade coffee or cage free eggs at a fast food restaurant. Most big box retailers stocked bath and body products that were full of dangerous and unnecessary ingredients.

You were stuck reading every label and hunting around on the internet (often fruitlessly) for something that was produced with people and planet in mind.
A few years ago, people would tell me that they’d love to shop more ethically if it were easier. Well, starting now, that’s no longer an excuse, because national brands are listening to our incessant demands for better transparency and better sourcing.

5 Big Name Brands that are Going Green & Ethical

1. McDonald’s 

In September 2016, McDonald’s announced that they were shifting to cage free eggs in all of their restaurants. This is BIG news, because McDonald’s uses 2 billion eggs a year. As most of you know, designating a hen operation as “cage free” doesn’t necessarily mean that the hens are given enough space or housed in an ideal environment, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

According to this New York Times article, it could take 10 years for McDonald’s to use 100% cage free eggs due to current lack of supply, but this move is likely to encourage more egg producers to go cage free. 

Relevant Articles: 

2. Chik-Fil-A

My mother-in-law gave us a Chik-Fil-A gift card for Christmas, so we stopped in for breakfast on the way home after Christmas break. Imagine my delight when I read my coffee cup and saw that the beans were sourced from an ethical and economically sustainable coop!

thrive farmers at chik-fil-a

Thrive Farmers is a direct trade coffee company (no middle man ensures that farmers get a bigger cut of profits) with a great track record for helping farmers create sustainable businesses. Companies enter into long-term partnerships with the suppliers to ensure economic stability, higher quality beans garner higher profits, and Thrive’s central organization ensures consistency throughout processing.

Oh, and the coffee tastes delicious!

Relevant Articles:

3. Target

Did you know Target now features over 30 all natural and environmentally conscious brands under its Made to Matter collection?

They carry Annie’s, J. R. Watkins, and even Brooklyn label, S. W. Basics, which creates simple products out of healthy ingredients like coconut oil and olive oil. Target hopes that customers will begin to associate the Made to Matter seal with products that are better for you and the earth.

But that’s not all! Target teamed up with TOMS for a winter collaboration in 2014 (I don’t love TOMS because the one-for-one model isn’t as effective as it should be, but I’m still glad that they’re bringing attention to conscious consumerism).

They also pledge to use only sustainable palm oil in all of their Target-branded products by 2018. Plus, they’re producing Local Pride tees for various US Cities and the products are made in the USA; local businesses receive a portion of profits from the sale of goods, too.

I’ve been harping on Target – and its devoted fan base – for years, asking them to consider their sourcing, and I’m overjoyed that they’re listening in a big way.

Relevant Articles:

4. H&M

H&M is the largest buyer of organic cotton in the world. Does that surprise you? As a global brand, H&M controls a huge portion of the fast fashion marketplace. The company has committed to promoting environmental sustainability, recycling, climate change awareness, using organic fibers, and providing fashionable options for conscious consumers through its Conscious Collection. While this is a step in the right direction, they’re still operating within a system that produces unnecessary goods at a breakneck pace. Still, their good example encourages competitors to improve their own systems.

Relevant Articles:

5. Forever 21

I was extremely surprised (I believe my reaction was shocked silence followed by whoa) when I learned that Forever 21 carries fair trade jewelry by Soko. Soko works under fair trade guidelines with Kenyan artisans and uses upcycled and natural elements to bring their designs to life. For a company as notably corrupt (and poor quality) as Forever 21, this sends a clear message: fast fashion is finding that it must adapt to consumer demand for quality, ethically produced goods if it wants to continue to be successful.

Other notable brands:

What do we do with this information?

For myself, I still prefer to purchase directly from small brands that promote slower, more meaningful ways of doing business. But I recognize that not everyone has the time or the resources to seek out sustainable companies every time they go shopping. 

Seeing ethical go mainstream is a cause for celebration, then, as long as we don’t lose sight of the end goal of creating a world where ethical is more than just a trendy option in a sea of merchandise, but rather the way we all shop, produce, and live.

Additionally, I don’t think we can move the Titanic that is the manufacturing industry toward calmer seas without including the big players. If we want the industry to change, we should continue to encourage companies like McDonald’s and Forever 21 to engage with the conscious community. 

If they can source ethical products and still make money, other companies will see that it’s just good business to care about people throughout the supply chain and to ensure that the world and its resources can be sustained for future generations.

I’m happy to see that this “you vote with your wallet” theory people like to promote is at least partially true. It’s not everything, but it’s a step forward, and I’m ok with that.

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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  1. I love Target, I am from Minnesota and Target is doing some great things with the Made to Matter campaign and products. I really think they have done a great job of adding natural options for beauty products as well as the additions of the Simply Balanced Organic food line produced for Target. I also shop H&M occassionally for their conscious line.

  2. oh yeah! forgot about that. I think it was several years ago.

  3. Such a great post! Target also had a collaboration with FEED Projects, not sure which year though.

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