Environmental Sustainability in Retail

Doing the right thing by our planet involves a suite of measures, not just a name check.

Some big businesses may like to think the desire to save the planet stayed in the 60s but sustainability is far from a passing trend and is still high on the agenda. In fact, it’s becoming mandatory for businesses who want to succeed. And more and more brands are waking up to the reality that, unless they incorporate sustainability into every step of their strategy, consumers simply won’t buy from them.

It couldn’t come sooner. 1 August was Earth Overshoot Day. While on first impression the title may seem innocuous, it actually marks the point where, as a species, we’re consuming more resources in a year than the planet can sustain. It’s the equivalent of running into your overdraft, only instead of asking a bank to lend you money to see you through, you’re on a planet spinning through space with no helpful neighbours nearby.

It pays to do good

If saving the planet isn’t enough motivation, sustainability is a profitable pursuit as well, with significant consumer demand. Non-profit CDP found in 2014 that, of the S&P 500 companies, those that made sustainability a core tenet in strategy outperformed those that failed to do so.

This is an imperative truth we’ve seen verified over and over. Unilever estimates there’s a gap in the sustainable market worth £817bn, while research by Nielsen and Deloitte discovered millennials will pay more for a product they know is ethically sourced.

Give the people what they want

As an article published on the Guardian recently noted, there’s pressure on consumers to change their habits, but less is being done by corporations.

Small, individual changes can have a huge impact, but what’s the use in a thousand reusable water bottles when companies refuse to recycle or tip their toxic waste into rivers? As a result, consumers are calling on companies of every size to do their part – and they’re willing to boycott or withhold their wallets from brands that fail to.

Consumers have never had more choice available to them. In the past sustainable brands were a scarce resource. Today there is seemingly on every shelf. Moreover, consumers have never been more informed and ready to act on injustice. Much of this can be tied to millennials and their appetite for sustainability and equality, but it means brands can’t get away with exploitation – consciously or otherwise. The world is open and accessible in ways previously thought unimaginable. Brands have nowhere to hide – nor should they want to.

Whats the first step?

PWC notes that, for retail, brands should begin by focusing on supply chain management, ethical trading, reporting and regulation. They should also make a commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and pay due diligence to consumer trends and demands. Brands should also partner with sustainable businesses and make an effort to really understand every step in the supply chain.

The supply chain is a powerful saver here, both in terms of money and resources. By evaluating the entire chain and tracking materials end-to-end, companies can enhance workflow and efficiency. Plus, on a more human note, they can also identify any areas of the supply chain that exploit the environment or its workers.

Go all in

It’s crucial that organisations live and breathe sustainability. Take the outdoor clothing line Patagonia. Sustainability is central to its mission statement and manifests in everything from its jackets, made of recycled bottles, to charitable actions and company culture.

It even has a section on its website dubbed ‘supply chain: the footprint chronicles’ that endeavours to “reduce the adverse social and environmental impacts of [its] products and to make sure they are produced under safe, fair, legal and humane working conditions throughout the supply chain.” Patagonia may be an expensive clothing brand, but its success is contingent on its commitment to the planet, its people and all of its inhabitants.

Help is at hand

Of course, it’s rare to see such transparency from brands, but it’s trait that’s becoming increasingly commonplace. POPAI, a global authority in eco-friendly business, offers a plethora of advice brands can use in their strategies. They’re aware sustainability is a continuous commitment, not a singular event. Moreover, its POPAI Sustainability Standard (PSS) exists to aid its members in measuring their environmental performance and helps move them to a position of best practice.

Sustainability is more than just a sticker on a product’s packaging. It’s not enough to make empty gestures or change just one aspect of a strategy. Sustainability must permeate everything a company touches – from its point of sale merchandise and supply chain sourcing to its eco-friendly head office and code-of-conduct measures like recycling programmes and energy-saving devices.

Sustainability at Linney

We’re proud to have been nominated for a POPAI sustainability award for our work with Sherwin Williams brand Ronseal. There’s more on the project here.

To discuss incorporating sustainability into your strategy, contact us today.