Target hits sustainability goals, with help from FishWise

Published on
September 26, 2016

Retail giant Target has reached a lofty sustainability goal it set for itself five years ago, with help from a partnership with the nonprofit FishWise.

In 2011, Target, based in Minnepolis, Minnesota, U.S.A, aimed to have all of its entire fresh and frozen seafood deemed sustainable, traceable or on its way by 2016. On 19 September, the company announced it had reached 97 percent of its goal, with full compliance achieved for 100 percent of its owned-brand seafood products.

“It really was an industry-leading project,” Target senior seafood buyer Nic Berkeland said. “When we first started out, there weren’t a lot of suppliers whose fisheries or farms were ready, willing and able to meet our criteria on such an ambitious timeline.”

Target partnered with FishWise, a nonprofit marine conservation organization, to to develop a comprehensive sustainable seafood program with strict guidelines that every fresh or frozen seafood product we sell must meet. For many of Target’s seafood vendors, that meant big changes to their operations, and the beginning of a process that is fast becoming an industry standard: tracing products back to the boats the fish were caught on. For those that wouldn’t comply, Target began shifting business to new fisheries around the world where sourcing was done more responsibly, the company said.

“This wasn’t something that could be done in a year,” Guy Engen, Target’s senior buyer for owned brands, said. “There were benchmarking studies, tough, strategic conversations about what products to keep, what to switch over and when—lots of planning and creative thinking. We thought in terms of baby steps.”

Berkeland and Engen eventually decided on a system that deemed products rated green or yellow by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA)’s Seafood Watch program or those from eco-certified sources deemed equivalent to an MBA yellow rating or better as “sustainable.” Products from sources in a credible time-bound improvement process may also qualify if they are on a demonstrable path to meeting our guidelines, according to the company. Target’s also uses the company’s social compliance policies to ensure products are produced ethically and in accordance with local laws.

“The partnership with FishWise made things really seamless,” Berkeland said. “They advised us, and connected us with the right vendors, organizations and experts to help make the best decisions for everyone involved. And the seafood community was really open to what we were doing—they knew the industry was moving toward sustainably-sourced products, and that making these updates to their businesses now would help them in the future.”

Target has not given up its goal of reaching 100 percent compliance with its sustainability policies, hoping to hit the goal later in 2016. It’s an effort that William Wall, the distributor division director for FishWise, applauded.

"Thanks to the efforts of multiple Target teams, FishWise, and too many external stakeholders and vendors to mention individually, Target has come extraordinary close to fully meeting its 2015 Responsible Seafood Commitment,” Wall said. “I am very confident that Target will continue to build on this success, thereby maintaining their leadership position within the retail space.”

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