Responsible Sourcing and Scaling Sustainability | Sandra Durrant, Target

In this episode of Sustainability Ambassadors, we speak with Sandra Durrant, Director of Responsible Sourcing at Target about her career, the issues she is most concerned with, and how she looks to leverage the power and scale of business to solve these problems.

It is an interview that we know aspiring and experienced professionals alike will be inspired by, and for more stories like Sandra’s, and to learn how to foster similar leaders in your own company, check out our Building a Sustainability Ambassador Network Report.

About Sustainability Ambassador Series

Sustainability Ambassadors is a video series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organization into action: to identify those with the potential to rise and think outside the box, and build a collaborate community of such people that can help your organization forge new paths of longevity and evolve into something powerful.

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For more insights on Sustainability Ambassadors, and to learn how to foster champions who can take your organization beyond business as usual, check out our Building a Sustainability Ambassador Network Report.

Series Schedule:



RICH: Good afternoon collective. I’m here today with Sandra Durrant who is with Target. She’s over here in China actually on her exploration trip and with her leadership and we are very happy to have her join us today.

We’ll be talking to her about her 14 years in this field and sustainability what drove her to get into sustainability but also, what’s, why she’s optimistic about the future, so we hope that you’ll enjoy our time together. If you do please share, like, you know, everywhere around.

Thank you very much and we look forward to speaking with you.


RICH: Please introduce yourself, a little about your personal background and what you’re currently doing for target.

SANDRA: I’m Sandra Durrant, I’m a director of responsible sourcing, managing the environmental arm of our work.

I was always focused in textiles when I was little I wanted to be a designer, so I started taking design classes and ended up taking a textile engineering class and just really geeked out on how fabrics were made and moved my career towards fabric engineering.

Then early in my career as a fabric engineer I started traveling overseas and started to see really the reality of how things were made and started lobbying towards a better way of doing things and would come to my boss with presentations of here’s what we need to do we need to create a green bullseye and move more towards sustainability and environmental oversight and through that timeline eventually I moved into my dream job about two years ago in responsible sourcing.

RICH: So you’re geeking out on textiles, then you see the realities what were the realities that hit you the hardest?

SANDRA: I would say the pollution was the biggest reality. I would have to cover my mouth when I was walking into a factory, and I would ask myself “how can people work in this environment day after day?”

That was 18 years ago the world has changed since then but it was really alarming just to see the reality of it.

RICH: You know, why do you work for corporation if you’re this passionate? I thought the corporation supposed to be greedy and promoting this, why not work for an NGO? You know, in your mind?

SANDRA: Because working for a corporation is where you can have the biggest impact, and working for a firm the size of Target is really where you can help create a pivot point.

We do mass amount of volume and so if someone our size can be a leader and help to change that mindset and help to work on factory improvement, then at least I know I’m doing something tangible.

RICH: What would be challenges that you think are faced by the industry? By the other global brands, when it comes to actually getting their heads around the size of the challenge or the first point of kind engagement?

SANDRA: I think there’s two, actually. A lot of factory owners are businessmen, they’re not the engineers that know how the products are made and because a lot of times they’re so separated from the work they don’t understand the correlation between efficiency and sustainability. And so, I think what’s hard is to show them the business case of take all the environmental buzzwords out of it and just show them how this makes them more efficient leaner operations and more competitive, but you would think on paper that would be an easy win, but it’s a little more difficult to get some factory owners into that mindset, so that is one of the biggest challenges.

RICH: What are the mental barriers that they have?

SANDRA: I think one of the mental barriers is that this is just a side investment and, I shouldn’t have to continue to put money towards this investment it should just run on its own. Versus, being able to show them “well if you invest X amount of dollars you will get a return on investment in 8 to 12 months” but how, it’s really how do you break down that barrier?

To say it may be 1 to 3 million US dollars and that sticker shock I think.

RICH: What are some of the improvements that you’ve seen, and that time and what are the couple of challenges you think that still linger?

SANDRA: I think one of the biggest improvements that has moved, actually rather quickly, is changes to regulation. Especially in China, they’ve been able to make very aggressive changes to environmental regulation in a very short amount of time which, creates this other challenge for the supply chain to actually get there. You know, so while regulation is getting stricter, that’s great for the people but not so great for the factories because they’re not given enough time.

RICH: What are some of the big wins you’ve seen?

SANDRA: I would say one of the big wins is really people actually understanding what environmental sustainability means. I also think NGOs have had a major influence on holding brands accountable, and well as a brand I don’t like to say that as a big win, it actually has been a big win to bring brands together and unite them together as an Industry Alliance to say ‘this is a systemic issue and we can help as brands to move the industry in a better place’.

RICH: Does it take crisis for that to happen, though? l

SANDRA: Yeah, I think we’re over the crisis leading the collaboration and where I do believe that CEOs and officers really understand the business case for environmental sustainability and how it aligns with efficiency and lean manufacturing and cost of goods and there really is a strong correlation between that and even when you look at social labor and working hours, there’s a strong correlation there between the quality of product, they’re actually delivering based off of the amount of time they work.

RICH: What’s the challenge of coming up with or overseeing the programs as they roll out? How complicated is that when you’re a small team or does it have an advantage?

SANDRA: Usually having 10 to 15 factories in a program at one time is really the band width of what we can, meaningfully approach and so that kind of limits how fast you can move, and I would say the other piece is, we’re still kind of this startup team and so what’s new in the industry is this move towards performance and perfect program.

So in a lot of cases you’re building it as you go, really grassroots, and so it’s really trial and error and “this didn’t work so let’s try it this way” and having worked on programs for the last four years we’re starting to get into our groove.

But after that it’s about how do you share that in the industry so that we can really begin to scale.

RICH: Yeah and as you scale I mean, can you just be the team of seven, ten, twelve that does it? or do you need to infect the other 30,000, 100,000 people in the organization?

SANDRA: Definitely need to infect the rest of the organization so that you start to influence their decisions, right? Either their decisions in the way they design, the decisions in the placement of the product or their decisions in their purchasing power, and so, I think the other piece too about what we need to infect is the factory management.

So as they start to work on performance improvement and see wins, how do they take that and share that with other factories in the matrix, or even take that as “this has been a really great learning for me and I’m now going to continue this cycle of continuous improvement within my factory”.

But there’s really a blind spot or a lack of education within environmental management in certain countries, and so, there’s this choke point if you will on the level of engagement a factory can really get in without having a consultant come in and tell them what to do.

RICH: When you’re trying to infect the members of your organization, what are some tools you find it like the best? What are the best hooks that you can throw out there so you can start landing these ambassadors for you? What’s the best bait that you found that really engages people?

SANDRA: I would say the WIFM approach ‘What’s In It For Me?’. So I tell my team “always say WIFM before you go meet with someone” and then you’re really putting yourself in their shoes. So if I’m going to meet with someone from sourcing who really has the power over the placement decision, why would they care about the programs were working on? Or why would they care about environmental sustainability?

RICH: And if you were to think back and talk to yourself from 14 years ago, what would you tell, like, what advice would you impart to her? as she’s starting her career.

SANDRA: I would tell myself to learn more about the other businesses in the organization, so you can really understand what are their daily pain points so that I can then tailor my message.

Throughout my career I’ve really driven this highly collaborative environment, but it’s more than just being collaborative and understanding what are their goals and objectives are. You need to know what they being held accountable to, how can we drive that together, and be able to show the correlation of the work rather than just the building of the relationship.

RICH: And so, how do you help them? Like, what someone’s like “Hey, I’ve got this great product, I think sustainability could add that extra oomph” What do you offer them?

SANDRA: I offer them the correlation between sustainability and efficiency. How that can help with their margin. How that can help with their manufacturing efficiency. For retailers, you have to know the story within this product that you can then tell to the guest.

RICH: Are there other stories right now that the guests are more open to or like they just “Wow, like, we thought they’d really care about that but we haven’t seen that take off yet?”

SANDRA: Yeah, our guests are more keen to hear about chemicals, rather than, I think they care about the other elements of what’s happening in manufacturing.

Water, a good example and I think other brands have done a great marketing campaign about water and using less water, and but, our guest has told us loud and clear through some of the work we’ve done in beauty and personal care that, what they put on them or what they put on their child is important to them.

So, as we work on sustainability, it’s about how do we also tell that story of protecting our guests, whether it be through chemicals or organic products.

RICH: IS that really the main driver for a lot of these initiatives? Or and that way if you drive to the guest you can get the salespeople on board with what the salespeople come the rest of the management structure? or is it easier for regulatory focused kind of initiatives to take hold?

SANDRA: Regulatory, we’re always doing. So, I wouldn’t say that, that is the drive.

The guest is a key element. That they’re the ones telling us with their wallet, with, they have the purchasing power to decide who they’re going to buy the product from and we believe that a targeted guest chooses us because they know what we’re already doing. Even without us telling them.

So, I wouldn’t say that in every case the guest is telling us to do it, it’s one of the elements we bring in, but we also want to make sure that we’re looking out for the communities in which we operate, as well as the workers we’re creating.

RICH: You’ve traveled to China 30ish times, maybe up to 40. How is, how important is it for you to be on the ground here? When you come in what is it that you’re looking to learn? or achieve? or be able to take back with you?

SANDRA: I think it’s very important to be on the ground and see the day-to-day. One of the things that’s been so amazing to me is to see how quickly things can change and things can move forward, but the other piece is to see through your own eyes, who is really, who of our factories is really industry-leading? Versus, who needs some help? and being able to make those connections face to face with our business partners goes a long way.

RICH: What are some challenges that you want to take on going forward? One of the things that you really want to achieve the next three to five years, and who are some organizations or people you want to reach out to externally to help get you there?

SANDRA: I would say chemicals in factories, and not just making sure workers have protective equipment.

I think chemicals are the gateway drug, if you will, to the pollution and if you can accomplish good chemical management, or good chemical restrictions in factories and find solutions that are not regrettable, you can improve wastewater, you can improve air emissions, you can improve worker safety, your, your then in you can improve how the guest reacts to that product, if they get a rash, or whatever.

So, to me if you can, I call chemicals the gateway drug, to really, the water, the air, the people, so that’s what I want to accomplish.

RICH: So if you take on this big topic of chemicals, like tactically, what are some things that you think you need to get done for you to actually climb that mountain?

SANDRA: The first is getting the people on board, even internally, to make sure that they understand how it’s going to impact their business, especially our cross-functional partners or our designers.

Then it’s “Now how do we tell the story about why we’re making this decision?” because there are a lot of products out there that I think guest think are great and amazing and that may not be a good solution for the earth.

So, how then do you tell a story? that “Hey this is what we’re doing and this is how it might impact you, but join us in this journey”. So it’s really about communication, I think. Communicating then about how do you go to other brands and ask for help, and that I do think is where things have changed over the last five years, and brands are working with each other but we also have a little ego.

RICH: Long term. Are you an optimist?

SANDRA: You have to be an optimist, in today’s world, you have to believe in the humanity of people and the goodness of people, and the fact that everybody wants to breathe cleaner, everybody wants to have a good working environment, and you have to believe that people are willing to pay a dollar more for their product in order to create that environment. But I personally don’t believe that you do have to pay more, I think it’s more about that mindset and everyone understanding the business case in the need.

RICH: All right, thank you very much, told you it would be easy

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