The biggest innovations in retail sustainability

There’s no denying that retail sustainability is vital, given the hefty carbon footprint that the sector leaves, and the needs for innovation present. The energy and resources used to manufacture and distribute products, transportation and delivery, and waste produced are all a cause for concern for increasingly discerning consumers, who want to make greener purchases where possible.

To meet their demands, retailers need to review every element of the supply chain, from ethically sourcing goods to reducing the impact on the environment during delivery. Luckily, there are a number of innovations making waves across the industry that means sustainable choices are becoming ever easier. Here are some examples of developments that retailers are adopting.

Packaging

Packaging, namely plastic, is at the top of many consumers’ watchlist when it comes to green issues. Research by YouGov released earlier this year even found that half of UK consumers would be willing to pay more to avoid plastic packaging. For retailers, it’s an ongoing struggle to find alternatives that maintain both product and environmental integrity.

Progress is being made though. US supermarket chain Wegmans has switched to produce bags created from 100% plant-based renewable materials; plant-based plastics are on the rise; materials like palm leaves and seaweed are being harnessed as packaging, and packaging is even being grown using mushroom root.

Certain brands are innovating their processes by using packaging that can be brought back into stores to be refilled, reused, or recycled, contributing to the circular economy that’s integral to achieving sustainability. Cosmetics company Lush have also introduced Naked Shops, most recently in Manchester, where products are entirely plastic-free.

Fabrics

Just like packaging, the fabrics that go into the clothing and accessories sector of retail are a major contributor to energy and resource usage, and, therefore, a major element in retail sustainability. As many consumers move towards buying better quality clothing, they are willing to spend more, justifying the investment by brands into innovative bio-materials.

These bio-materials are being developed as alternatives to those that are highly polluting. One example is Piñatex, a material made from discarded pineapple leaves that has a similar feel to leather. It’s already been used by major brands like H&M, who have announced that they will be using recycled or sustainably sourced materials in all their lines by 2030.

Tencel is growing in popularity as an alternative to cotton. The latter requires an incredible amount of water to produce, whereas Tencel is made from cellulose fibre in trees and is far less intensive.

Although bio-materials like these are still in their early days, the choice of stock for retailers made from more sustainable sources is ever-growing.

Food Waste

From fashion to food, yet another area of retail that has to tackle its sustainability issues and is innovating to meet the challenge. Waste is perhaps the biggest problem when it comes to food retailers’ environmental impact but technology’s helping hand could be here to save the day.

Companies like the US-based food science and AI brand Spoonshot are creating solutions that predict emerging trends and consumer behaviours to help retailers better understand which products to stock and in what volume. Technology such as this is being implemented all along the food supply chain, making processes more efficient and sustainable at the same time.

These are just a taster of the existing solutions with myriad more to come too, leaving us hopeful that there’s a greener future in store for retail.

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