At a moment of unprecedented attention, investment and opportunity for the emerging field of ESG, leaders are asking: Who is best preparing their organization for the society of the future? Who is innovating today to meet decades-long environmental and social goals? Who is setting standards that catalyze their industry’s change for the better? Who is defining what bold and aspirational look like — and how best to advance that work in practice?

Enter NationSwell’s ESG Next, an exemplary group of investors, executives, authors, philanthropists, social sector leaders, academics, and field builders who are helping to shape business as a force for social and environmental progress, advancing — and even pioneering — the most forward-thinking and effective programs, initiatives, technologies, methodologies, practices, and approaches.

For this installment, Greg Behrman, CEO + Founder of NationSwell, sat down with Amanda Nusz, Target Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility, to talk about the connectivity between ESG and business growth, and the importance of co-creating within your business and across your stakeholders.

Behrman, NationSwell: What is some of the work you’re leading that you’d hold up as a real exemplar of unique and effective approaches to the field of ESG?

Nusz, Target: We have undertaken several initiatives that are advancing our Target Forward sustainability ambitions. One that I’m particularly proud of is our work with Bridgeforth Farms, a fifth-generation, Black-owned family farm. By using cotton sustainably sourced from Bridgeforth Farms, we developed a selection of exclusive tee-shirts sold during Black History Month.

This alliance is unlocking growth opportunities for both of our businesses. It also inspired us to pursue new ways of working across our teams and the ways we operate with all of our external partners to enhance traceability and transparency throughout the sourcing journey.  

Our partnership and work with Bridgeforth Farms illustrates how important it is to not treat environmental and social issues as silos. They can and should work hand in hand to drive progress on all facets of sustainability and sustainable business practices. 

Behrman, NationSwell: Internally, it sounds like there’s an effort to socialize folks around some of these best practices. How do you do that in practice ?

Nusz, Target: The idea of co-creation is the central component to our process and our progress at Target. It’s a principle to which we’ve anchored our new sustainability strategy, Target Forward, which sets a vision to co-create an equitable and regenerative future with our guests, partners and communities. This means it’s a strategy built for collaboration across our business and with our partners, and for upskilling in sustainability for every member of the Target team. At every step, our principles of listening and collaboration shape our decisions and our ability to execute on our ambitions to design and elevate sustainable brands, innovate to eliminate waste, and accelerate opportunity and equity.

We know the work will be better if we do it together.

And that’s not just true of our work at Target headquarters — it’s true in our stores. For the majority of the stores we open, we’re in the community for months, if not years, before the store opening to build community relationships and understand how our stores can have meaningful presence and create meaningful impact for the community. 

It’s just one example of how we are enabling sustainable practices, decision making, and co-creation in every corner of our business, recognizing that impact and progress will be driven from every part of our organization. 

Greg Behrman, CEO + Founder, NationSwell: What’s driving you to carry out this work?

Amanda Nusz, Target: The bold sustainability ambitions being set in the business community are truly remarkable, as is the growing recognition that sustainability strategies are business strategies. The potential to drive positive impact and growth has never been more apparent, and demand for action has never been higher.

It’s energizing to see so many working to meaningfully answer that call, and it’s energizing for me personally as I reflect on the opportunity in front of us to accelerate growth through sustainable practices. 

Behrman, NationSwell: As you look at the field of sustainability and ESG and its growing prominence in the business dialogue, how do you make sense of the current moment?

Nusz, Target: I can’t help but always think about this moment — and what it means for business — in terms of growth. If you look at everything a business is trying to do, and you ask yourself, “Out of all of these goals, what really matters? What’s the role of business?” I strongly believe the role of business is to show sustainable growth — a phrase that has two meanings. 

At Target, we are mindful of the fact that business growth must be grounded in environmental and social sustainability practices; and, that the decisions we make and direction we take as a business must be built to last. Understanding the critical issues in your business model, and then relentlessly focusing on what happens in your model, can really unlock what it means to grow, and to have a brand that people love, need, and celebrate.

Behrman, NationSwell: Who are some leaders in the space who you really admire?

Nusz, Target: With co-creation at the core of our sustainability commitments, we have the opportunity to work alongside so many organizations that are advancing and accelerating sustainable growth.

Partners like the United Negro College Fund with which we’ve created the Target Scholars program to provide 1,000 students at HBCUs with scholarships, mentoring, internship and networking opportunities. And the PENSOLE Lewis College of Business & Design in Detroit, which offers free tuition to aspiring Black designers, engineers and leaders. 

Closed Loop Partners is activating meaningful work to advance circularity across the business community — and we’re grateful for our partnership with them and other retailers in The Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag. 

And we continue to be energized by the innovation we’re seeing across brand partners to advance sustainability with our guests. Our Target Zero initiative has seen brand partners like Burt’s Bees, PLUS, Grove Co. and more developing products and packaging designed to be refillable, reusable or compostable, made from recycled content, or made from materials that reduce the use of plastic.

Behrman, NationSwell: And what are some books or resources that have been really formative or influential for you in this space?

Nusz, Target: I’m always on the lookout for books that help me inspire our team to uncover their strengths and ideas that can advance our sustainability strategy — in particular our longstanding commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

The Overstory by Richard Powers is a book that opened up a great sense of connection and understanding of the complex relationship between nature and humans as well as the importance of family, bio- and cultural diversity. And I found James D White and Krista White’s Anti-Racist Leadership to be an important resource for leaders working on designing and creating great places and cultures for all. 

I also find many podcasts a source of inspiration, including How to Save a Planet, especially the 2021 episodes with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.

To learn more about how our ESG Next honorees are shaping business as a force for social and environmental good, visit the series hub. To learn more about NationSwell’s community of our country’s leading social impact and sustainability practitioners, visit our site.