“Unless a tree has borne blossoms in spring, you will vainly look for fruit on it in autumn.”
Soaring autumn temps have helped profits fall for Dodgeville-based apparel company Lands’ End, according to its third-quarter report.
Lands’ End and its parent company, Sears Holdings Corporation, which also owns the Kmart stores, experienced losses double those of the previous three-month period. The report, issued Thursday, cited “unusually warm weather” as a contributing factor to declines in sales of seasonal apparel at both Sears and Lands’ End.
In January of this year, Lands’ End laid off 30 employees from its Dodgeville headquarters. Thirty more were let go from the company’s overseas facilities.
Retail strategist Michael Dart of Kurt Salmon Associates was quoted in a WISNEWS.com article about the recent report, saying, “They have to do something to stem this… you do get to a tipping point.”
The man sounds like a climate scientist. Tipping point, indeed:
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months, and the warmest April, May, and June on record.
- Canadian researchers have shown that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40 percent since 1950.
- Nine countries have so far set all-time temperature records in 2010, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May: 129 degrees.
Add all this to the news at the beginning of this year that the decade we just came through was the warmest on record and it’s enough to make you want to park your parka — permanently. Or at least not buy a new one until you’re sure you are going to need it more than a couple days of every year. And that’s just what many people have done, according to Lands’ End and Sears.
Thickening up this stew of irony: the day before its parent company released the news that its losses have snowballed, Lands’ End put out a press release saying it was sending three lucky customers and their friends to Canada this winter. It’s all part of the company’s Real Adventure Winter Getaway Contest in which customers are invited to submit essays about the Lands’ End outerwear they would bring along on one of three winter trips to the Canadian north. Perhaps the company realizes that real winter adventures are becoming harder to come by in Wisconsin — and the U.S. — thanks to global warming. The Birkebeiner, the storied cross-country ski race that runs between Hayward and Cable, Wisconsin and draws competitors from all over the world, has been cancelled or shortened 3 times in the last 10 years due to warm or wet weather.
It’s not like Lands’ End and Sears don’t care about the environment. Both companies have taken significant steps to green their operations in recent years. Sears came in second among companies competing in the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Building Competition this year and received an ENERGY STAR rating of 83 (anything above 75 gets you recognized). In 2009 the company was the ENERGY STAR program’s Retailer of the Year.
The sustainability accomplishments and initiatives listed on the Lands’ End Web site are extensive and include reducing its catalog paper consumption by 50 percent between 2004 and 2008, increasing the amount of recycled and sustainably harvested fiber in their paper and packaging materials, placing community gardens on company property, and engineering paperless work stations at its call centers. The company claims over 1500 employees took action against global warming by participating in Earth Hour on March 28 of last year.
But the efforts of both companies seem like little more than window dressing compared with those of fellow retailer Kohl’s Department Stores, which has installed renewable energy systems at many of its stores and distribution centers around the country. In 2009 Kohl’s announced its intention to become the first retail chain to become carbon neutral by the end of this year. The Menominee Falls-based company is a true climate leader. That the company’s profits grew 16 percent in the nine-month period ending October 30 cannot be unrelated to its commitment to sustainability.
I hope this latest negative financial report from Sears and Lands’ End will underscore for executives at both companies the extent to which global warming can (and increasingly will) affect profitability, and that it will spur them to make a more thorough review of the environmental consequences of all operations and products, and take steps to greatly reduce those consequences. This should also be a wake-up call for business leaders around the country. Because the real bottom line is this: if we don’t change the way we do business — especially how we use energy to manufacture and distribute products — global warming and the economic disruption it will cause will ensure that we do very little business at all.