VANCOUVER — A global movement aimed at pressuring governments into action over climate change is calling on Canadians to join a mass strike planned for Friday and “disrupt business as usual.”
But many retailers in Canada seem to be ignoring that call, with only three chains planning to shutter operations to help raise awareness about Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s movement.
“Sustainability is really part of our DNA,” said Phil Arrata, CEO of Vancouver-based MEC.
The company will close its 22 stores in Canada on Friday until 5 p.m. local time to allow staff the opportunity to participate in protests.
Organizers plan climate strikes on Friday in more than 150 countries, including Canada. Vancouver is one of several Canadian cities with planned actions, according to the Global Climate Strike website.
The movement started with Greta, an activist who protested outside of her country’s parliament for several weeks in August 2018.
When her action caught the attention of social media, she expanded the movement to encourage kids to skip school every Friday to pressure global leaders to act. The young activist and her Fridays for Future school strike followers are now calling on everyone to walk out of their commitments Friday in a collective strike.
“We can all take part, whatever our circumstances, by refusing to accept the status quo,” reads the strike’s website.
Arrata said MEC staff wanted to participate.
The company knew it may be short staffed that day as a result, he said, and didn’t want to skimp on customer service or overwhelm the employees who choose to come in.
MEC’s head office, as well as distribution and service centres, will remain open, but those employees are able to let the company know they plan to attend a local protest.
While MEC wanted to accommodate staff desires to participate, it also wanted to send a message to customers about the issue.
“Naturally our move is going to raise awareness,” Arrata said.
The company emailed its members to inform them about the closures and explain why they made the decision.
“The current rate of emissions causing climate change, if continued, puts the earth on a path to seeing 3–4 degrees of warming by mid-century. This will cause significant impacts to where we live, work and play,” the note reads.
Another Vancouver-based company, Lush Cosmetics North America, made a similar decision.
The toiletry maker said it will shut down its 50 shops, manufacturing facilities and online shopping in Canada on Friday in an effort to encourage its 2,216 staff and customers to participate in local actions. It closed some 200 shops in the U.S. last Friday, when the strike took place in that country.
“We have really come to understand the impact that climate crisis is having on our staff, as well as the rest of the world,” said Carleen Pickard, the company’s ethical campaigns specialist.
Between the company’s roughly 250 stores, Lush employees felt the impacts of flooding, hurricanes and wildfires, Pickard said.
That feeling of climate change being “something that’s really, really real for staff” drove the company to take this bold move, said Pickard. Lush also has an in-store campaign to educate customers on the impact of climate change and the strike movement.
Both companies realize their moves may be met with cynicism by some.
MEC understands its a retailer and its operations impact the environment, Arrata said.
“We sell product that’s made out of plastic. We have a supply chain. We move product around Canada,” he said.
But the company wants to become a leader in change and reduce its impact so that customers know when they buy their outdoor gear from MEC they’re choosing sustainably made goods with the least environmental impact.
“I think we’re all, at this point, part of the problem,” said Pickard, but pointed out that not all brands operate in the same manner.
“Standing back and not participating at this point in time feels like it’s the wrong decision,” she said. “The right decision is to step up and say that we understand that we all need to be engaged in this.”
The Canadian Press contacted some of Canada’s biggest publicly traded retailers to learn if they planned to support the protests.
Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica Inc. intends to keep its shops open, a spokesperson said, but would accommodate staff scheduled to work who wish to attend the strikes instead.
An Indigo Books & Music Inc. spokesperson said the retailer’s home office teams in Toronto and Montreal would have the opportunity to participate.
The Hudson’s Bay Co., Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd., Dollarama Inc., Canada Goose Inc., Cineplex Inc. and Aritzia Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vermont-based Burton, which makes snowboards and winter apparel, plans to close its four Canadian stores on Friday to allow staff to join the movement.
“The Amazon is literally on fire, the seas are rising and glaciers are melting,” wrote CEO Donna Carpenter in an email to staff. “I’m proud to have Burton join Greta’s movement to draw attention to this global crisis.”
The company is also closing its European stores where actions are planned on Friday, and shuttered operations in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia on Sept. 20 where protests took place.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2019.
Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press