Sustainability has been a growing concern over the last years - although for many retailers it has also brought new opportunities. From pre-used to package-free items, traceable supply chain and conscious choices, people have become more concerned about how their buying habits affect the planet - and they expect business to follow that part.
Retailers must not only listen, but take carefully considered actions to improve their sustainable offerings. With a greenwashing being increasingly brought up across media channels, what can you do to actually offer sustainable choices but remaining in the safe spot for greenwashing?
Source sustainable products and brands
In the consumer goods space, new independent companies are making waves by appealing to consumers with their strong ethics, total transparency and sustainable business models. There are various new evaluation platforms offering supply chain evaluation, co2 emission calculation based on formulas created by environmental engineers - offering proof-based sustainability badges. Retailers can keep a finger on the pulse of demand by searching for new brand owners and manufacturers to supply such products and stack their shelves with high-demand stock.
Use biodegradable, reusable, recycled packaging or suggest no package at all
Manufacturers of beauty industry has started offering packaging-free items, such as shampoo-soap, hard shower gel and refillable liquid clothe detergent that can be poured into a bottle, brought by a customer. Lush, a Cosmetics to Go business, were among the first businesses to start selling goods without packaging - a divine smelling soaps, bath bombs and cosmetics. Packaging-free approach is getting increasingly popular in shopping centers, where retailers set up a self-serve station where consumers can directly choose between standard products and non-packaged goods.
The world’s first plastic-free supermarket, Ekoplaza, opened in Amsterdam in 2018. Since then, similar initiatives have popped up across the world, including zero-waste delivery service, packaging-free delivery for groceries and apps where small food business and stores can give away or cheaply sell their goods before their expiration date, to avoid food waste.
Support second hand initiatives
More consumers than ever are choosing to buy second-hand goods. Platforms like eBay, Etsy, Amazon are booming with sales of vintage, old-school or simply used apparel and goods. Study shows that the market of second hand products has grown 21 times faster than the retail market over the last years.
It makes sense for retailers to take part in selling pre-used items and offer buy-back schemes (where retailers accept returned items to repair, resell or recycle items, as well as partner with other platforms who sell such products).
Explore rental business models
Not only second hand is experiencing a never-before demand, but also a rental business models. It transformed music and entertainment (replacing CD's to apps such as Spotify, Apple music, DVD's to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney) and it is coming for your industry too. Prioritizing experiences over ownership, services such as Rent the runway are changing fashion industry by making luxury fashion more accessible to customers.
With more business expanding into the rental market, this model is likely to stay around. It will require careful considerations of business-model and improved technology to handle such changes, but bring additional revenue and sustainability points as a pleasurable side effect.
No matter if you sell clothes, electronics or anything else - recycling initiatives covers it all. Lately, industry giants have launched initiatives to get back their used goods in return to store credit or donations. For example, Scandinavian brand Gianni donates money to I:CO circularity research project, meanwhile Ikea offers store credit in exchange to customer's used furniture.
During the times where retaining the customer is getting harder and harder, take-back programs are a way to truly stand out.
Offer eco-friendly delivery
Amazon with its Prime same-day or next-day delivery (and other retail giants) has fueled consumer demands and expectations for delivery speed. While this is great news for a customer, it also means devastating consequences for our planet.
Although it's hard to make a decision to step out of a speedy-delivery game, not every customer is purchasing items in a ,,need-it-yesterday'' fashion. Amazon itself has pledged to make 50% of its deliveries net zero carbon by 2030 - meaning no harmful emissions. This might include deliveries in electric vehicles or non-polluting transportation means such as bicycles.
Giving some extra loyalty points or a discount in exchange for a few extra day wait for delivery might incentivize more customers to choose alternative delivery options.
Lately, even constructions companies started offering sustainable choices, such as offices in a ,,Zero CO2 Emission Floor''. Retail stores can now get Green Business certifications, meaning store implements strategies to save energy, improve water efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions. Of course, business unit can also obtain certifications such as ISO 14001 and UNGC SDG's, which proves business effort on a strategic level.
When it comes to physical stores, there are many ways to embody sustainability throughout - handmade, organic furnishings (for example reused wood and wood pallet furniture), biodegradable mannequins, and nano-carbon air conditioning system, or simply reusing water for air-con.
Global energy provider Schneider electric claims that retail buildings are the largest energy consumers among non-residential buildings in Europe - reducing carbon footprint and emissions can impact the planet on top of improving your brand image, while also saving significant costs.