Woolworths SA: Making Sustainability Sustainable

Author :

Claire Beswick; John Luiz

Pages :


Product Type :

Teaching note

Reference # :


Teaching Note :



Wits Business School


Cape Town




sustainability, environment of business, climate change, triple bottom line, responsible retailing, and sustainable development.


Woolworths was founded in 1931 by Max Sonnenberg, with one store in Cape Town. By 2009, it had 408 stores, making it one of the largest retail chains in the country. Woolworths’ main product ranges are food, clothing and homeware, targeted predominantly at people in the upper income groups. The company believes that the key to its success lies in providing customers with high-quality fresh produce and convenience foods, and clothing that has a reputation for being a cut above everything else in value and quality. In 2007, Woolworths’ growth reached a peak, with sales in the clothing and home division increasing by 16.2% and in the food division by 25.6%. In that year, Woolworths launched its Good business journey with a five-year plan to improve the company’s sustainability performance. The plan set a range of targets centred on four key priorities, which had been identified in accordance with the concept of the triple bottom line: transformation of the business according to employment equity and black economic empowerment (BEE) requirements, social development, the environment, and climate change. The response of civil society organisations to Woolworths’ efforts was positive and it received the 2008 International Responsible Retailer of the Year at the World Retail Awards in Barcelona, Spain, beating both Sainsbury’s and Tesco to the prize.