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9 Ways to Improve Sustainability in Retail

28 June 2023

9 Ways to Improve Sustainability in Retail

It’s a much-discussed topic so in this article, we’ll share a wide range of sustainability retail ideas that can make a big difference.


More than a third – 35% – of the UK are actively shopping from more sustainable brands, according to OC&C Strategy Consultants. And consumers are contributing to £150bn of retail spend with sustainable brands.


There are many ways to play a part – for example, participating in the ‘circular economy’ is a great way to improve sustainability in retail. It involves leasing, sharing, refurbishing, repairing, reusing and recycling sustainable materials for as long as possible along the entire value chain!


Here are various robust sustainability strategies to embrace better retail sustainability:


#1 Go digital where you can


While digitalisation is not emission-free, channelled the right way it can help preserve resources and limit waste. For example:


  • Going paperless: More than 11.2bn receipts are printed in the UK every year, producing 28,000 tonnes of CO2, according to Beat The Receipt. Ask customers if you can send theirs by email instead.
  • Creating digital samples: Rather than setting up physical showrooms, consider digital ones that customers can view online.


Steps such as these not only cut production output, they lower costs too. Keeping clutter to a minimum helps maintain a clean and tidy store – also, you’ll likely improve staff morale with a clean space.


#2 Optimise your supply chain


Your business also has a responsibility to monitor its supply chain sustainability:


  • Review shipping and logistics arrangements: Last-mile deliveries can contribute a lot to the carbon footprint. More sustainable options include parcel lockers, while carbon offsetting may also be an option.
  • Ask manufacturing suppliers to share data: Not only around pollution and waste, but also in terms of working practices and safety conditions.


In general, manufacturing can produce plenty of waste in the retail sector. If producing products in-house, audit this as well.


#3 Use energy efficiently


Green energy is better for the planet, but one of the clearest paths to sustainable retail simply involves using less of it.


For example, by switching to LED light bulbs, you’ll use less power. Longer-term efficient options for retail companies include solar panels.


Another quick fix is to be vigilant about energy wastage, by turning things off when they are not in use.


#4 Consider product rentals


For some product lines, a rental business model can potentially provide more revenue using fewer items.


Consumers can make use of a product for the length of time they need, then return it for someone else to rent.


The end-result is less manufacturing and waste, producing a lower overall environmental impact.


#5 Refurbish and recycle


There are several ways to improve the lifespan of materials used in retail.


  • In-store displays and decorations: Rather than creating everything from scratch, try to use recycled materials where possible.
  • Packaging: Product packaging has a huge environmental impact, even though it’s only used for a short period of time. Limit plastic packaging. Aim for compostable, recyclable or reusable materials to create sustainable packaging.
  • Worn-out purchases: Try to help your customers increase the lifespan of their old or worn-out products by providing a repair service.


Similarly, you may also be able to offload stock you no longer plan to sell – not only does this support the circular economy, it helps you keep a clean and tidy store.


#6 Upcycle or donate unsold stock


Upcycling involves taking a product that you’re no longer using and giving it a new purpose – rather than recycling, which breaks it down into reusable materials.


Some creative retailers will be able to find new life in their old stock and sell it for a profit, all while embracing sustainable practices.


Alternatively, if you can’t upcycle anything you may be able to donate it to another company that can!


#7 Launch a buy-back programme


Not sure how to improve customer footfall amidst inflation? Here’s one idea – there’s increasing consumer demand to buy second-hand sustainable products, especially if that means they’re cheaper.


For example – in fashion, consider offering to collect and resell clothing at a discount or for charity.


Depending on your service area, there may be an opportunity to collaborate with a resale platform.


#8 Source sustainable brands and products


As a sustainable retailer, this is a no-brainer. Review the brands and products you stock and where feasible, challenge them on their sustainability credentials.


If similar alternatives are available from more sustainable sources, consider the impact of switching.


Criteria to review includes materials, ingredients, packaging, waste and so on.


#9 Set customer-facing SMART sustainability goals


Ultimately, one of the most effective ways to improve sustainability in the retail industry is by establishing accountability.


Agree on sustainability progress metrics and goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART).


By making these goals customer-facing, some customers may view your sustainable business credentials more favourably.


Once the goals are announced, customers will also hold you to them and expect results.


Final thoughts: Sustainability retail ideas


There’s plenty in this guide to think about in terms of sustainability retail ideas, we’re sure you’ll agree. If you’re interested in this topic, we’ve also written a guide on green office ideas for businesses.


Collectively the UK is working towards a net zero carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions target in all sectors by 2050.


When leading your own sustainability efforts and initiatives, one of the challenges is the reliance on partners and providers you work with to also do their bit. That goes for everyone – from the banks providing finance, to the property manager, the cleaners and everyone in between.


At Think FM, we’re dedicated to providing exceptional commercial cleaning services in London for our clients with sustainability at the forefront. We regularly monitor our practices and supply chain to ensure our cleaning services are sustainable – please contact us for more details.

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