Why sustainability is more than a label – it's an ethos

Melanie Polin
Global force for good HERO

In August 2018, when I first joined Athleta (Gap’s premium fitness and lifestyle brand), I’d never heard of B Corporation and certainly didn’t know what it meant to be a B Corp certified company. Since then, I’ve not only learned about Athleta’s B Corp journey but have joined the B Corp crew. We’re a group of employees who volunteer our time to focus on maintaining and improving our B Corp status, helping educate our employees about being a B Corp company and empowering them to share our story.

First off, it’s important to understand what it means to be B Corp certified and why Athleta decided to pursue certification. As a B Corp certified company, it means that we put people and planet right up there with profit. In order to achieve certification, a company needs to complete two steps: first, assess the business in its entirety – from its supply chain to working conditions and everything in between – and pass the assessment; and second, amend its legal charter within two years of certification. By doing this, Athleta will always be a B Corp (as long as it maintains its score), even when there’s a change in leadership.

For Athleta, becoming B Corp certified aligned with our purpose-driven mindset. We were already a company focused on igniting ‘a community of active, healthy, confident women and girls who empower each other to realize their limitless potential’ and had begun to pursue sustainability practices. B Corp certification just solidified our commitment to using business as a force for good.

For Athleta, becoming B Corp certified aligned with our purpose-driven mindset

So next the big question … given all the different aspects that led us to certification, how should we distil it down in a way that our employees understand and could share with our customers? In order to do this, we identified three key messages that we believe best represent our story.

1. Empowering women and girls

This first message was a natural choice. It was already part of our mission, but we needed to make sure our customers believed it and knew we’d never lose focus on who we are. A great example of this is our new Athleta Girl campaign, Let Failure Fuel You.

2. Sustainable product

The second message made sense due to the ever-growing focus on environmental impact. We constantly strive to incorporate sustainable practices into every stage of the design process without sacrificing quality. Although we’re currently undergoing myriad changes, our focus is on telling the customers the big facts, such as 85% of our swimwear comes from recycled material.

3. Reducing waste

Last but certainly not least, our final message takes both the form of physical waste, such as recycling, and closing our supply loop to limit the amount of product wasted.

We had the messages – now we needed to spread the word. We focussed first on educating our store employees as they’re the ones that interact with our customers daily and know them best. To ensure they had the high-level facts in an easily digestible manner, we started by creating a one-pager to highlight key information: our story, our focus areas and our goals.

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Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balance purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good. Courtesy of B Corp

However, as we continue to gain recognition for our impact as a B Corp company, the more curious our customers get, specifically about our products. We’re therefore constantly developing new material for our store employees, such as product guides with sustainability details for each of our current products. We’re also working with our sustainability team to create an FAQ.

For the B Corp crew, though, we know it’s not just about getting information to our customers. We also want our employees at headquarters to understand what makes Athleta different and show them our commitment to ‘building a better business’. So when a new employee joins, their orientation now includes a dedicated section on our B Corp journey. We also made sure to celebrate our first B Corp anniversary by bringing in a panel of other B Corps, launching a Paperless Challenge for a day, and creating a scavenger hunt to find B Corp facts throughout the building.

At Athleta, being a B Corp isn’t just a label; it’s part of our ethos. We’ll continue to strive to be a leader in the industry, not because it’s good for our business but because it’s the right thing to do.