6 green initiatives for retailers to consider
It should come as no surprise that the concept of sustainability has been driven primarily by the consumer with more than a third being willing to pay more for sustainable products.
Yes, Patagonia and a few other brands have been pioneers in this field and should get the credit they deserve for representing the highest standard in conscious consumerism. Yet it’s the consumer who has taken the sustainability conversation to the next level, demonstrating ever-increasing social values which creates a huge opportunity for retailers to tap into.
Consumers are becoming much more in tune with the environmental impacts of their buying habits, and now actually expect sustainability to be a core attribute of the brands they trust.
But they expect more than just sustainably produced product offerings. They actively seek companies that have sustainable values and business practices that mirror their own ideals.
Popping the word ‘sustainable’ across your branding just isn’t going to cut the mustard anymore. ‘Fake it till you make it’ simply doesn’t work with discerning and savvy consumers (and it isn’t ethical either). The more retailers can evidence their green ethics through supporting actions, the better. Actually ‘walking the green walk’ if you like.
Meeting this strong expectation and demonstrating eco-friendly credentials could just be the difference between you and your competitors, as it’s not just about what you’re selling, it’s about how…
When a retailer decides to go green, packaging in the supply chain is a very obvious place to start for many brands. Whilst we agree that reducing the amount of waste that goes into packaging should be a priority, as it’s often the first point of contact between a consumer and the brand itself, there’s so much more ‘green’ kudos to be had.
Here are 6 green initiatives for retailers to consider
1) Look at your supply chain
By their very nature, supply chains often involve energy-intensive production and transportation as products are made and moved around the globe. Therefore, retailers can actually make the biggest difference by taking steps to change and challenge their supply chain.
Non-food retailers can learn from businesses in the food trade, which might publicise ‘food miles’ as part of their sales process to tell part of their sustainability story to consumers about the environmental footprint of their supply chains. Retailers in other sectors could consider communicating the ‘miles’ their products have travelled, as a way of reinforcing the sustainability narrative.
2) Think “re-commerce”
Consumers are increasingly rejecting the throwaway culture. This creates a market for what is being termed ‘re-commerce’. Many retailers — particularly sellers of apparel, footwear, and accessories — offer services enabling consumers to donate or resell their now unwanted items rather than consign them to landfill.
Companies reselling or recycling used clothing will soon become the norm, with many offering a take-back scheme as well as a pre-loved section on their websites and in-store.
Retail leaders are beginning to really listen to consumers’ environmental concerns across product life cycles, and are taking a more holistic view beyond production to demonstrate how they are working to protect the environment, whilst addressing concerns about sustainability.
3) Give products a new lease of life
One aspect that often gets left out of the green conversation is the importance – and opportunity – of repairs, alterations, and restoration when it comes to extending the lifecycle of products.
Giving products a new lease of life by adding repair services could just be the buried ‘sustainable’ treasure you’ve been searching for.
Retailers need to understand their responsibility in a circular context that goes beyond the point of sale and evaluate whether repair and restoration is not only an opportunity to help reduce a significant amount of environmental impact but also to attract new segments of consumers.
4) Future proof your products
Something to keep an eye on is the emerging standards for giving clothing a ‘digital identity’ or ‘birth stamp’ which uses either RFID tagging or QR codes to store information about the garment.
Technology standards – such as the Circular Product Data Protocol – will give consumers clarity over the product’s provenance, enabling resellers, and recyclers to access, identify and share essential product and material information. It also opens opportunities to give consumers a sense of empowerment and responsibility as product – and indeed brand – custodians.
While this green initiative for retailers is still in its infancy, it will ultimately extend the longevity of products and enable brands to scale circular business models, including unlocking new post-sale services for customers, such as care and repair services, as well as initiatives focused on resale and recycling.
5) Digitise receipts
Over 11.2 billion paper till receipts are printed each year by retailers in the UK – a staggering number that generates enough paper to reach to the moon and back.
Being paperless at the till and offering consumers digital or email receipts offers retailers the opportunity to reduce costs, whilst also contributing towards delivering tangible sustainability benefits, such as reducing the use of oil, water, and trees used to manufacture paper.
It’s a simple switch that could have a significant impact. There may still be some pushback on consumers being willing to give their email address, but couple this strategy with clear communications around the positive environmental impact, and retailers will appeal to consumer green values.
6) Upcycle IT
Going green is not just about saying you’re green, it’s about making points of differentiation, by doing it better than your competitors.
One innovative way to achieve this is to look to extend the life of point of sale hardware, by upcycling.
The pandemic has disrupted supply chains, and new hardware e.g. tills and scanners have become a scarce resource. However, this doesn’t need to hold retailers back from realising the benefits of improved POS and store management systems. Rather than replacing both software and hardware, retailers should explore upcycling legacy POS equipment, by implementing the latest software, running on existing hardware.
This allows retailers to reduce the total cost of ownership whilst unlocking the benefits of the latest technology, whilst reducing waste and IT costs, whilst taking further steps on their sustainability journey. Plus it gives retailers a chance to quantify and showcase their green credentials as part of their brand story.
Going green doesn’t need to be difficult
Sustainability has become a powerful value proposition for increasingly conscious consumers and whilst all these ideas are valuable, retailers need the tools to properly deliver against their green ambitions and need to take ownership of their responsibility for sustainability, throughout the whole product life cycle — right from birth to growth, maturity and eventually, demise.
Truly delivering against this mantra can present a real headache for retailers – in managing the overall practicalities of operating sustainable processes, such as restocking, repairs, and reselling. This is where retail management systems play a pivotal role in enabling retailers to manage reverse logistics, for example, making it easier to manage circular retail strategies.
Retailers that can successfully link creative and innovative ‘green’ thinking, with processes and technologies that enable them to both manage and deliver on their brand promises, will make huge leaps in ensuring that they stand out from the greenwash crowd.
As the sustainable (yes, electric) bus leaves the station, retailers should take note of their peers, such as The Body Shop, who are showcasing their green commitment by laying bare their entire social and environmental impact, through the adoption of globally recognised standards, such as being a Certified B Corporation.
After all, it’s not just about what you’re selling, it’s about how you sell it!