Sustainability efforts in the retail sector

Consumers are growing ever more eco-conscious. Concerned by reports of climate change, they are searching for brands that take sustainability seriously. That includes casting a more critical eye on how and where products are being made. The public interest outcry for a more sustainable retail sector is forcing industries to respond with greater sustainability efforts in all areas. However, this mammoth industry is going to require an ongoing overhaul to really go green, and that’s no easy feat. Here, we take a look at the positive changes already underway and where work still needs to be done.

Recycling and Reusing

Key to a sustainable retail sector is promoting a more circular economy. That means keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible. Consumers and retailers alike are recognising that the waste from throwaway culture is unacceptable, and solutions are starting to appear.

Brands like H&M have responded by testing out concepts like ‘repair and remake’ services. It’s a scheme that allows their club members to have clothes mended free of charge. Nike has also launched a ‘Reuse-a-Shoe’ programme in selected US and European stores. They are turning old trainers into new clothing and footwear, or even sports surfaces.

Similarly, some retail businesses are encouraging their customers to bring packaging back in-store to be repurposed and reused.

Eco-Friendly Delivery

Delivery and return methods are a massive emitter of greenhouse gases within the retail industry. Businesses are turning from traditional delivery vehicles to electric alternatives in a bid to bring down that carbon footprint.

Electric cargo bikes are being used for delivery by certain Co-op and Sainsbury’s stores. Sainsbury’s were also the first UK supermarket to use a 100% electric van in one of their London locations. DPD have trialled electric vehicles too, and Amazon has recently invested in 100,000 Rivian electric delivery vans.

Greener Stores 

Greener choices are happening on shop floors too and even in the way those shops are built. IKEA’s Greenwich branch received an ‘Outstanding’ BREEAM certification – the highest award for sustainable construction. It’s also a hub for education and advice about living sustainably.

Some leading supermarket chains, such as Iceland, have introduced reverse vending machines. Here customers can deposit plastic bottles in return for vouchers. As single-use plastic is a top concern for consumers, these have been popular and will likely appear in other stores.

Where do improvements still need to be made?

A joint approach, rather than having separate sustainability schemes, is perhaps the next stage for retail businesses. That requires a longer-term commitment to sustainability and ongoing adoption of greener processes.

Aside from environmental concerns, consumers also want to know that those making their items are being compensated and treated fairly. Brands who can afford to could consider taking complete control over the manufacturing and distribution of their products. Overseeing the whole supply chain will mean they can ensure sustainability and ethical standards are met all the way through.

It’s clear that retail businesses are introducing more sustainable solutions to their business models. Only time will tell which are token efforts and which brands are fully committed to a more sustainable future.

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