Is it time for retail to go green?

Sustainability. It’s something that we all know we should be working towards. With the planet under huge environmental stresses, and the COP26 summit driving the message home, there can be little excuse for inaction.

But the difficulty with making sustainability gains in business is that it’s always carried a cost. And with one eye on the bottom line, historically it has been hard for retailers to justify any investment in eco-friendly practices.

However, with emerging technology making it easier to make a difference, and green policies being a significant driver of brand differentiation, the question is no longer whether your retail business should adopt sustainable practices, but when and how those practices should be put into play.

7 ways retailers can improve their sustainability while benefiting their business

Go paper-free

From Christmas craft markets to big brand retailers, paperless receipts have become mainstream. Whether you’re taking customers’ email addresses, or asking them to enter their phone number into your device, e-receipts are a simple and efficient way to provide consumers with the documentation they need, while reducing paper consumption. And for your business, it opens a marketing opportunity, while removing the cost of paper receipts.

Consider your packaging

Since May 2021, all UK retailers have had to charge customers for plastic bags. But that’s not the only way to tackle waste packaging. Some stores offer an incentive for returning or reusing packaging from previous purchases. Branded reusable bags can encourage sustainability while advertising your business. Choosing paper over bubble wrap to protect fragile goods continues the sustainable message – using recycled paper is even better and will save you cash.

Think about energy efficiency

From selecting LED light bulbs to choosing A-rated appliances for the staff kitchen, energy-efficient electrical equipment can reduce your carbon footprint at the same time as reducing your electricity bills. Turning off your tills, computers, and lights at night will amplify those results.

Opt for a green clean

The cleaning products we use have a significant impact on our health as well as the environment. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in a whole range of everyday cleaning products contribute to air pollution while holding the potential to trigger a whole range of health concerns for the people who use them – from allergies to cancer. Switching to organic products is better for all concerned.

Reduce waste

Landfill is bad for everyone. It emits masses of methane and CO2, allows toxic substances to seep into the earth, and takes up a huge amount of space around the world. Ruining the quality of life for everyone nearby. We now have the technology to implement intelligent inventory management systems with the potential to eliminate waste. Saving your business money, while reducing your environmental impact.

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Promote your green ethos

Customers are increasingly ethically aware. In 2018, 49% of under 24’s avoided a business because of the brand’s negative environmental impact. It’s highly likely that that figure has increased in the years since. By promoting your green ethos – whether by stocking green products, launching your own green line, implementing a tree planting policy, or setting up bee-friendly window boxes outside your shop – you are shouting about your beliefs and your credentials. And helping customers to make better choices.

Help your staff to buy into the sustainability movement

New workplace sustainability practices are often met with resistance, being viewed as an additional layer of bureaucracy. But by explaining the reasoning, implementing simple processes, and getting colleagues involved in sustainability goals, it’s possible to get even the most entrenched employees on board.

Corporate social responsibility demands that we now take sustainability seriously. With more than 208,000 VAT-registered retailers in the UK in 2020, we are collectively in a position to make a real difference to the future of our planet. When we can help our businesses in the process, it becomes the obvious choice.