Zalando Sustainability- Company Profile

By 2020, the Zalando sustainability strategy aims to drive the business to become the leading platform for sustainable fashion in Europe. What can other retailers learn from their approach?

Pureplay fashion retailer Zalando has an ambitious vision. By 2020, the Zalando sustainability strategy aims to drive the business to become the leading platform for sustainable fashion in Europe. Founded in Germany, Zalando now trades across Europe, with multiple localised eCommerce sites.

As a young company, we are currently taking our first, yet important, steps in this learning process. Our aim is to continuously improve and ensure that our business is sustainable in the long term.

With a transparent and honest approach, the Zalando sustainability journey offers excellent insight and tips for other retailers when building their sustainability strategy.

Business Honesty

One of the biggest sustainability hurdles is knowing where to start. The complexity and sheer scope of work required to address the issue mean that getting started can be a considerable challenge.

The Zalando sustainability strategy focuses on transparency and honesty regarding the impact of their business on the environment. Instead of trying to hide away these issues, by being honest with yourself, you open up a clear strategy for the path to change.

Zalando sustainability review identified the source of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions in their value chain. The analysis introduced a system to regularly calculate CO₂ emissions and created a benchmark from which to work.

Zalando CO2 Emissons Per Order
Zalando Sustainability: CO2 Emissions By Source. Source:

Zalando Sustainable Fashion

Zalando is focusing hard on providing its customers with sustainable brand options. As important is the eCom execution in trying to make it clear precisely what makes an item ‘sustainable’.

“Our current fashion assortment with a sustainability benefit is already one of the largest available in Europe, but we’re just getting started”

Sara Diez, Vice President Womenswear, Zalando

With more than 15,000 sustainable SKUs, across 240 brands, Zalando mark items with a ‘sustainable’ label at the category level, with an explanation provided on the product page giving specific quantification of why a product is deemed sustainable.

Zalando Onpage Product Sustainability Example
Zalando Sustainability: Onpage Product Spotlights. Source:

Calling out ‘sustainable’ is widespread. A transparent and honest analysis of the reason to call out ‘sustainability’ is not so standard. By giving a reason, consumers have a better insight into the raw materials used and educate on the impact this has.

“Brands should not brag about their minor advances (in sustainability), but they should share these with the consumer”

Matt Powell, Senior Sports Indutry Advisory, The NPD Group

Zalando Sustainable eCommerce Packaging

Sustainability is becoming a commercial strategy- Zalando does not shy away from this.

A 2018 European Consumer Packaging Perceptions study showed that 75% of consumers have their purchasing decisions influenced by the sustainability of packaging. It, therefore, becomes a natural starting point, with both financial and ecological upside.

Zalando started by being honest with themselves, identifying that the business used 34,000 metric tons of packaging materials in 2018. This analysis led to a life cycle analysis (LCA) to understand the environmental impact of the materials used, and in turn, guiding the business when forming their Sustainable Packaging Principles.

Zalando Sustainable Packaging Principles
Zalando Sustainable Packaging Principles. Source:

The business has committed to aiming for 100 per cent sustainable packaging by 2020. Initially improving the materials used in their packaging, Zalando sustainability drive will also invest in new ideas. These ideas include re-useable options to move away from single-use.

Sustainability in fashion e-commerce does not only apply to textiles, but also to how the articles are packaged for delivery.

Melanie Hultsch, Senior Corporate Responsibility Manager, Zalando
Zalando Sustainable Box Features
Zalando Sustainable Box Features. Source:

Supply Chain Transparency

Starting in 2018, the Zalando team began running an annual ‘Supply Chain Transparency Hackathons’. By bringing together tech companies with brands and partners, the Zalando team looked to provide the platform for innovation.

Much of the development was focused on supply chain mapping, or more naturally thought of as the passing of data between suppliers. While incredibly complex, this, in theory, allows for a complete picture of the environmental impact of a product to be quantified.

Digital technologies such as Blockchain, AI and Big Data can help us to collect data more efficiently, transform it into valuable information, and thus enable more qualified decisions for all parties involved”.

Dennis Hoenig-Ohnsorg, Team Lead Corporate Responsibility, Zalando

Tech companies such as Sustainabill and Haelixa have already developed tools and strategies to unlock a more transparent supply chain. Zalando looks to connect these technologies with brands like adidas to try to find a real-world solution which could apply to their business.

Further Reading: Fast Fashion Sustainability: How is a $5 t-shirt possible? Read More