Adopting sustainable retail strategies can help the environment as well as your business and brand image.
Here are 8 ways to do it. We’ll cover what a sustainable retail strategy means, why it’s important and how you can put sustainability into practice.
What Is a Sustainable Retail Strategy?
A sustainable retail model is an approach to the retailing business which seeks to minimize negative impact on the environment generated by products and business processes. It aims to promote more environmentally friendly procedures throughout all phases of retail operations, including being eco-conscious in areas such as:
- Office infrastructure resource usage
- Sourcing of suppliers
- Packaging choices
- Storage and shipping methods
- Marketing and sales operations
A sustainable approach to retail pursues strategies that promote eco-friendly results. Such strategies can include:
- Reducing the use of resources
- Using more sustainable resources
- Reusing items rather than discarding them
- Repurposing items
By implementing such strategies, a sustainable retail model serves both to bring a company’s practices into alignment with eco-friendly policies and to improve a brand’s reputation with eco-conscious consumers.
Why Is a Sustainable Retail Strategy Important?
Sustainable practices in retail provide several compelling benefits both for the environment and for companies. One of these benefits is cost reduction. Eco-friendly operational procedures can cut a retailer’s costs in a number of areas.
Take Walmart, for instance. The retailer found that using technology to plan more efficient truck shipping routes and reduce engine idling increased fuel efficiency by 90% and cut carbon emissions, according to the Los Angeles Times. Sustainable practices can improve your efficiency and cut your expenses in areas such as energy consumption, production costs and shipment costs, thereby increasing your profit margin.
In an age of environmentally conscious consumerism, sustainability can build your brand image, increasing your marketing and sales effectiveness. Nearly two-thirds of Americans are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products, and nearly 8 in 10 are more likely to buy a product clearly labeled environmentally friendly, according to a poll by environmental technology company GreenPrint. More than 3 in 4 Americans say they would switch their preferred packaged goods brand to offset carbon emissions.
A socially conscious business model also can help you with employee recruitment. More than 7 in 10 employees and employment seekers say sustainable companies are more attractive employers and nearly half say they would take a lower salary to work at an environmentally friendly company, according to a survey by International Business Machines.
Building a reputation for sustainability can make it easier for you to attract talented workers who prefer eco-friendly employers.
How to Become a More Sustainable Business
How do businesses demonstrate social responsibility to the environment? Here are 8 steps you can take to implement a more sustainable approach to retail.
1. Define Your Sustainability Mission Statement
The first step to sustainability is articulating your goals. The best way to do this is by drafting a formal mission statement summarizing your company’s policy on sustainability.
Your statement can address issues such as:
- What does your company believe about the importance of sustainability?
- How does sustainability relate to your company values?
- What are your policies about specific applications of sustainability, such as energy consumption, waste production or eco-friendly sourcing?
Your sustainability mission statement can be incorporated into your company’s overall mission statement, or it can be developed as a separate document. Once you’ve developed your statement, publicize it to your employees and through your website so that both your workers and your customers are aware of your policies.
2. Set and Track Measurable Sustainability Goals
To put your sustainability policies into practice, set measurable goals which will allow you to aim at definite objectives and track your progress.
Examples of measurable sustainability goals include:
- Reducing carbon emissions as measured in tons of carbon dioxide per year or the equivalent
- Reducing energy consumption as measured in units such as kilowatt hours per month
- Increasing the percentage of products you recycle
These are just a few illustrations. Review your operations and look for places where you can quantify sustainability goals.
3. Reduce Energy Usage
Managing your company’s energy usage is key to improving sustainability practices. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends small businesses take steps to reduce energy usage, such as:
- Purchasing energy-efficient equipment marked by the EPA’s ENERGY STAR seal
- Turning off lights and equipment when not in use
- Installing light sensors that can detect automatically when rooms are occupied
- Making seasonal adjustments to windows using means such as curtains to control direct sunlight for desired temperature effects
- Keeping heating and air-conditioning systems in tune through annual maintenance contracts and regular filter changes
Consider arranging a professional energy audit to identify places where you can reduce your company’s energy consumption.
4. Digitize Physical Workspaces
One way to decrease the amount of energy your company uses is shifting some of your physical operations to a digital workspace. Reduce your physical energy consumption through strategies such as:
- Moving digital infrastructure from local networks to the cloud
- Using virtual resources (virtualization) to reduce use of physical resources
- Adopting bring your own device (BYOD) policies
- Hiring remote workers
These methods can both reduce your on-site energy consumption and reduce telecommuting employees’ use of fuel and emission of carbon.
5. Adopt Paperless Policies
Another way digital technology can help you increase sustainability is by allowing you to decrease your paper output. Consider going partly or completely paperless in areas such as:
- File storage
- Sending customers statements
- Tax filing
Depending on the nature of your product, you may be able to digitize the delivery of certain products. For example, Amazon.com sells many books in both physical and digital form, with ebook sales reducing the number of paper products sold.
6. Seek Sustainable Sourcing
Your logistics policies form another key component of sustainability. One way to make your logistics more sustainable is to be more selective about sourcing. Look for suppliers who use recycled or remanufactured materials and follow sustainable practices in areas such as energy usage and waste management.
When considering suppliers, ask questions such as:
- Whether they do their manufacturing themselves or rely on outside sources?
- Can they attest to their own suppliers’ sustainability?
- Whether they follow policies to reduce carbon emissions?
To help you evaluate suppliers, you can use rating systems such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a green building rating system administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainability. Other useful rating systems include TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency), a related certification program dedicated to waste reduction, and B Impact Assessment, a certification system developed by B Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainability goals.
7. Use Sustainable Packaging
Packaging is another place where your logistics policy can support sustainability. Sustainable packaging involves strategies such as:
- Avoiding unnecessary use of packaging material by taking steps such as simplifying package designs and using thinner containers when feasible
- Reducing the use of nonrecyclable material
- Using sustainable material such as post-consumer recycled cardboard, recycled plastic, organic fabrics and biodegradable packing peanuts
For paper and cardboard products, look for certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting forests. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a membership-based coalition devoted to eco-friendly logistics, provides resources to help companies implement more environmentally friendly packaging policies.
8. Consolidate Freight Shipments
How you manage your shipments is another key component of sustainability. The more separate shipments you send, the more mileage your carriers put on, the more fuel they consume and the more carbon emissions they generate.
A logistics strategy for reducing your shipment volume is freight consolidation, where multiple shipments destined for the same final or transitional location are combined into a single shipment. This reduces resource usage while saving time and cutting shipping costs.
To implement this strategy, look for logistics providers who offer freight consolidation services. For example, UPS offers several freight consolidation options. Freight Forwarder Services provides a global directory of shipping and logistics services that allows you to search geographically for providers.
Adopt a Sustainable Business Model to Make Your Brand Eco-Friendly
Sustainable retail strategies seek to promote more eco-friendly practices throughout retailing operations, from office infrastructure and product sourcing to sales and shipping. This approach helps the environment, while also helping businesses by cutting costs and improving brand perception by consumers.
For best results, a systematic approach to sustainability should be documented in a formal mission statement and pursued through measurable goals. Key strategies for implementing sustainability include reducing energy consumption and waste production, using eco-friendly sourcing and packaging and consolidating freight shipments to save fuel.
Adopt these methods to reduce your impact on the environment, cut your costs and improve your brand’s image in the eyes of eco-conscious consumers.