Interview with Global Head of Sustainability at Samsonite | Convoy
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Samsonite’s Christine Riley Miller: The First Global Head of Sustainability

There can be any number of reasons an organization is driven to adopt a sustainability platform. Publicly traded companies, for example, may be required to publish an annual report on sustainability initiatives. Other catalysts could include new C-level talent coming on board who have a sustainability mindset or ongoing customer inquiries as to what a company is doing to be more sustainable in order to capture their business. In any event, once the decision has been made, the steps to establish a sustainability strategy can be quite daunting. 

We invited Christine Riley Miller, the first Global Director of Sustainability at Samsonite to provide insight on how to guide an organization toward becoming more sustainable. Christine actually has quite a task at hand as she not only oversees sustainability at Samsonite, but at its global family of brands including American Tourister, Gregory, Hartmann, High Sierra, and other regional brands.

In using Samsonite as a case study, Christine demonstrates how the company worked to incorporate sustainability into everything from product design and packaging down to the retail environment. She also showed us how any organization can get employee buy-in and even if you don’t have an official sustainability department implementing a company-wide strategy, individual employees or departments can still work toward reducing their carbon footprint in some way. Follow along with Christine’s key takeaways below: 

  • Incorporate sustainability into product design: Look at product innovation and material sourcing through a lens of sustainability. How can you design for repairability and durability? How can you design for recyclability? How can you improve the efficiency of your manufacturing and distribution centers? How can you retain employees? Basically, you need to look at everything you do through that lens of sustainability and what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. (2:50)
  • Set sustainability goals and measurement criteria: Our current strategy for the next six months is to work on measurement as it relates to sustainability. In order for us to measure our outcomes, we have to set goals, so we have established nine goals and our plan is to determine how we measure the progress toward achieving those global goals. Look at things like products and packaging and mitigating the impact on the environment. How will you demonstrate that you are increasing the use of sustainable credentials? How are you defining that? How are you collecting data? What does it look like? It’s important to collectively look at your impact, measure it, and then work together to increase the use of sustainable materials across your products. (4:19)
  • Foster employee engagement so that everyone is contributing to the sustainability outcomes: It helps when you have a lot of engagement across the entire organization. There will be many people who are really interested in how they can contribute to the sustainability of the organization and how they can contribute to progress against your defined goals. With Samsonite, our product designers are constantly sharing innovative ideas around how we increase the durability and repairability of our products. In the retail environment, when we design our stores, we look at lighting in the stores and perhaps will make the decision utilize all LED lighting . And while it might seem like a small impact for one individual store, when you look at it across our entire store footprint, it’s a pretty significant impact on our overall carbon footprint. So being able to make those kinds of changes at scale, means that we then bring that footprint down.  (5:41)
  • Recognize sustainability can begin in any department of an organization: More and more, with younger employees coming into and growing into an organization, they start to believe in sustainability and recognize that you don’t have to sit in the sustainability function in order to have an impact on your company footprint. Whether someone is in the supply chain or human resources or product design, distribution, etc., you can help shape your company strategy. As more and more people start to be aware of their role and take some responsibility for that role and say, “Hey, what can I do?”, we will start to see sustainability grow. And as companies start to see that consumers and investors in particular, are more and more interested in what companies are doing to mitigate their impact on the environment, on their workforce, on the people in their supply chain, then they will start to see the value of it. Consumers will start to make decisions through their spending. Investors will start to make decisions through the companies they’re willing to invest in, and I think we’ll start to see companies continue to move in that direction. (7:40)

Watch the video or read the transcription below.

Samsonite’s Christine Riley Miller: First global director of sustainability

TRANSCRIPTION

Jennifer: You are Samsonite’s first global director of sustainability. Could you tell me more about what that means in terms of your role and responsibilities? 

Christine: I lead all global environmental and governance issues for Samsonite and our family of brands. So that includes familiar brands like Samsonite, American Tourister, Gregory, Hartmann, High Sierra, and some other regional brands. I joined the company in December of 2017, and I was tasked with developing our first global sustainability strategy across all of those brands and regions. 

Jennifer: How does Samsonite see the value of sustainability? Why did they decide to hire you at that time? 

Christine: Well, so I’m lucky because I have two, I think there were two catalysts. One is that we are listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, so we’re required to publish an ESU report annually. And, you know, the company published the report and said, [2:00] “Oo, we should probably take this, you know, have someone who’s going to manage all of these commitments that we are going to be required to report on annually.” And then I have this terrific CEO who’s super engaged in sustainability, very supportive, and our entire leadership team as well. So, I’m lucky in that regard. Because, you know, they really believe that sustainability is the right thing to do for our people, our planet, and the business and that, you know, our aim is to lead the industry in sustainability by keeping the world traveling while staying true to our 110 year ethos, which is the golden rule. And respecting people and planet in everything that we do. 

Jennifer: And with this investment in sustainability so far, what impacts, or results has sustainability driven for the business? 

Christine: You know, sustainability for us really drives product innovation. We are a product company first and foremost. We, you know, are the largest manufacturer and distributor of lifestyle bags and travel luggage brands. So, it’s really about how we look at product innovation, material sourcing through the lens of sustainability. How do we design for repairability and durability. How do we design for recyclability? How do we improve the efficiency across our manufacturing and distribution centers? What can we do to retain world class employees. We look at everything that we do through that lens of sustainability and it has helped us reduce our carbon footprint by 6.6 percent since, globally in scope 1 and scope 2. Since 2017, we’ve launched more than 50 collections that have some type of sustainable material in that our use of recycled PET has enabled us to divert more than 52 million plastic bottles from the landfills. [4:00] So, we’re already seeing a lot of success I think, you know, in the 3 years in which we’ve had a formal commitment to this. 

Christine: What we’re looking at particularly over the next 6 months is how do we measure? So, we set these goals, we’ve established 9 global goals that we announced as part of our sustainability strategy which we call our responsible journey, we announced that in March. We set 9 goals and now it’s really looking at how we measure the progress towards achieving those global goals. So I’m working with my colleagues now to say, you know, one of our goals is to increase the use of sustainable credentials across all of our products and packaging so that we can mitigate our impact on the environment. Well, how are we going to demonstrate that we are increasing the use of sustainable credentials. How are we defining that? How do we collect the data? What does that look like? So, it’s a huge undertaking when you look at it across, you know, multiple brands and regions, but it’s exciting to be able to work collaboratively to say how do we collectively look at our impact, measure that, and then work together to bring, you know, to increase our use of sustainable materials across our products. 

Jennifer: You mentioned a lot of work in sustainability across departments and across all of your brands. How does sustainability really show up in terms of employee engagement so that everyone is contributing to this work? 

Christine: You know, I’m so fortunate I have a lot of engagement across, you know, from our CEO all the way to our retail staff. So, across the entire organization, I have a lot of people who are really interested in how we contribute to the sustainability of the organization [6:00] and how do we contribute to progress against those 9 goals. So it shows up, you know, our product designers are constantly sharing with me innovative ideas around how do we increase the repairability of our products and how do we increase the durability of our products so when you go out, you know, on a trip and, you know, you bang your suitcase down the steps or up and over the curb like I do, it’s going to last longer. Or if your zipper breaks, do you have the ability to repair that yourself? How quickly can we repair a handle so that you can get right back on the road. So we look at things like that so that you’re not, you know, if your suitcase breaks, you can repair it and not have to replace it and that keeps a lot of that luggage out of the landfill. So that’s one way that it shows up. You know, another is looking at when we design our stores, we look at lighting in the stores. We’ll look at, let’s convert it all to LED, let’s use LED lighting because it might seem like a small impact for one individual store, but when you look at it across our entire store footprint, it’s a pretty significant impact on our overall carbon footprint. So being able to make those kinds of changes at scale, means that we then bring that footprint down. 

Jennifer: Thank you for sharing all that so far. And I just have one more question. What do you think it’s going to take for more companies to make larger investments in sustainability? It sounds like just in 3 years, you’ve made so much progress for this brand that has been around for a while. So, I think there’s hope for many brands that maybe haven’t started on sustainability yet. 

Christine: I think…more and more, you know, with younger employees coming into and growing into the organization, they start to believe in sustainability and recognize that you don’t have to sit in the sustainability function in order to have an impact on your company footprint. So, whether you’re in the supply chain or [8:00] HR or product design, distribution, regardless of where you are, you know, you’re in marketing, you can help shape your company strategy. So, I think as more and more people start to be aware of, you know, their role and take some responsibility for that role and say, “Hey, what can I do?” We’ll start to see that grow. But I also think, you know as companies start to see that consumers and investors in particular, are more and more interested in what companies are doing to mitigate their impact on the environment, on their workforce, on the people in their supply chain, that companies will start to see the value of it. Consumers will start to make decisions through their spending. Investors will start to make decisions through their, you know, the companies that they’re willing to invest in, and I think we’ll start to see companies continue to move in that direction. 

Jennifer: Awesome. Well, Christine, thank you so much. I’m going to be thinking about you every time I haul my Tumi luggage when we get back to traveling again. 

Christine: Well, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure. 

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Jennifer is the Head of Sustainability at Convoy, helping transportation leaders make progress against their environmental and social impact goals.