| Tom Swinbourne

Becoming a sustainable retail brand

Being able to demonstrate sustainable thinking to consumers is an important part of retailing. While the pandemic put a lot of sustainability efforts on hold, retailers are now looking to invest in this area once again.

Here, we look at how retail brands can become more sustainable as they head into 2022 and a post-covid era.

Why is it important for retailers to be more sustainable in 2022?

The world’s resources are being depleted (FACT) so unless businesses take steps to ensure their operations and processes are more sustainable, resources cannot be conserved or replenished at the rate required to sustain ongoing utilisation.

Within the retail industry, maintaining a positive brand reputation is crucial and imperative to longevity and success. Sustainability continues to be a major factor in brand reputation management, with modern-day consumers now more eco-conscious than ever.

Certain brands within the industry have received bad press over the years, with criticism particularly aimed at retailers that sacrifice sustainable practices and prioritise reducing manufacturing costs to win over market share.

Though many retailers are becoming more eco-conscious, consumers are also more alert than ever to ‘Greenwashing’ activity taking place in the industry, so ensuring sustainability claims are authentic is crucial to brand reputation.

As we head into 2022, Reconomy is urging all retailers to practice what is preached by industry leaders and become completely transparent about their processes and operations.

What are the benefits for retailers?

As the industry heads into a post-covid era, competition is fiercer than ever. Although brands with e-commerce platforms thrived during the multiple lockdowns, brands that heavily rely of physical footfall felt the impact of closed doors.

As competition rises in the industry, it’s crucial that brands have more than one unique selling point to consumers. A study conducted by Forbes revealed that 88% of respondents were more likely to purchase from brands who put sustainability at the forefront of their approach. Not only should sustainable practices become the norm, but brands can also go one-step further and use them as a unique selling point as they aim to standout in a crowded and competitive industry.

Brands should also recognise that the word ‘sustainable’ has a commercial context as well as an environmental one. For a business to remain healthy and solvent, it needs to sell its goods or services to customers for more money than it spends to produce those goods or services. Not only can retailers use sustainable practices as a unique selling point, pushing their waste further up the waste hierarchy and utilising it as a resource can produce huge cost benefits, potentially reducing manufacturing costs.

The business case to embrace sustainable practices has never been more evident, as the financial consequences of not specifying 30% recycled content packaging (EPR) and segregating waste (Environment Bill) will hit bottom lines.

What do retailers need to be aware of before embarking on their sustainability journey?

First and foremost – it needs to be a business imperative. However, before a brand can embark on their sustainability journey, here is what to look out for…

As we have already mentioned, the modern-day consumer is more alert to ‘Greenwashing’ than ever, making it critical for retail brands to be completely authentic and able to back up their claims. Not only is authenticity critical, but the journey also needs to be a collaborative approach.

Leadership from the top is a powerful motivator to enforce this and something that can ensure all members are pulling in the same direction. The management team of any retail brand has the power to influence colleagues and implement sustainable practices, thereby leading from the front to hit environmental objectives.

Brands also need to be sure that progress is being monitored. Reporting is a critical part of any sustainability journey and needs to be in place to monitor progress, as well as operate and measure correctly. The best approach for a modern business is to utilise ‘triple bottom line’ accounting (financial, environmental, and social).

What can retailers do to become more environmentally friendly in 2022?

To start with, brands need to develop a strategy to make sure they have a goal to reach. Once the strategy is set, communicating to all relevant stakeholders is key. As we touched on above, having all your wheels turning in the same direction is key to reaching any sustainability targets set in 2022. However, leadership from the front needs to include communication and ensuring the business is fully transparent on where it is on its sustainable journey.

Next, supply chains need to be considered. By improving processes in a supply chain, brands have the potential to not only create less waste, but maybe even create a circular approach by pushing its waste back into its supply chain as a resource. The first area to be considered is the packaging footprint, looking to see if a brand can implement some quick wins to ensure there is less packaging waste and that more of it can become recyclable content.

It shouldn’t stop at packaging; brands should then make their way up the supply chain process to see if any other areas can be improved by encouraging sustainable practices. A recent example from Levi Jeans in our blog post; how to become a sustainable fashion brand, showcases the importance of this. Levi decided to act after noticing a growing issue with denim as a waste stream and the high levels of water needed to create a single pair of jeans. Levi’s recent Water<Less range uses up to 96% less water in its production, saving an estimated 3 billion gallons of water so far. This simple change from Levi helped tackle a growing problem in the manufacturing process of their product.

Finally, we urge retail brands to implement a clear and effective waste reduction plan to prevent short life products. UK Supermarket, Iceland, recently introduced a great waste reduction plan that also gives something back to loyal customers. To combat food waste in stores, Iceland have introduced a ‘free on last day of life’ scheme, offering customers the chance to purchase items on the last day of their best-before-date at no charge when they transact online. A great initiative that not only incentivises purchases but prevents stock potentially ending up as food waste.

How can Reconomy help retailers become more sustainable in 2022?

Reconomy can help you create a closed loop philosophy when it comes to waste, encouraging steps towards a circular economy model. You can start your journey by downloading our ‘5-steps to circularity playbook’ today!

Or if you’d prefer to get in touch and discuss implementing a sustainability strategy with us, please contact us today