Sustainability in retail is a key focus across most stores today, not to mention a core concern for consumers. Its place as a primary topic of discussion also means that we have a greater understanding of how our actions can best serve our ecosystem. That’s not to say that it’s always easy to know where to begin making adjustments in retail spaces.
Our contemporary business landscape holds great potential for retail entrepreneurs. Even for local mom and pop stores, the digital age offers resources that can help attract new customers and technology that can make operations run more smoothly. However, the world we live in also brings challenges with it. One of the most prevalent is understanding how to function in a manner that keeps the wellbeing of our planet and those who live on it at the forefront of our businesses.
We’re going to take a closer look at why keeping sustainability at the forefront of your retail business can result in benefits for the planet, your community, not to mention for your enterprise itself. What should you be prioritizing as you build your sustainability strategy? How can you take practical steps toward becoming a positive influence on the world?
Why Prioritize Sustainability?
There’s no denying that prioritizing sustainability in retail requires some investment. Time and capital are elements that entrepreneurs are protective of, and rightly so. First and foremost, though, sustainability is an ethical responsibility all businesses must bear. Twenty-one percent of global greenhouse emissions are caused by industry, and overconsumption of resources results in community disparity. The actions each business takes at this point can also halt the irreversible effects of climate change, and help ensure a healthy, productive culture for centuries to come.
That said, there are also compelling business reasons to commit to a focus on sustainability. Today’s consumers prioritize businesses that undertake environmentally and socially responsible practices. One recent study found that 75% of Millennials stated that they would pay more for sustainable products. Generation Z is already starting to follow suit. The success of any retail business relies upon understanding the needs of its consumers. Those who neglect to authentically incorporate sustainability into their business model are likely to fall behind the competition.
Demonstrating sustainability throughout every aspect of your business is also important for your reputation among consumers and the wider industry. Your ability to thrive in the retail sector can be dependent upon gaining and maintaining the trust and confidence of your local and global community. By making it clear that you utilize methods and products that actively improve the lives of those around you, you can build a brand that breeds loyalty and helps to build positive, lasting relationships.
Audit Your Activities
Perhaps the best way to understand how your retail business can be more eco-friendly and ethically conscious is by committing to regular sustainability audits. It’s not a finite approach, as our knowledge and resources change over time. Examining your practices annually not only helps keep you on top of changes but formalizes the process in a way that allows you to prioritize alterations to make them more manageable.
Areas for auditing should include:
This can be one of the easier aspects of the audit, as the data is usually readily available. Look at your utility bills to examine your energy consumption. Review all electrical devices — from point of sale (PoS) terminals to lightbulbs — for their energy ratings. Look at where you can start to trade out inefficient devices for those that are Energy Star rated.
As a retailer, you should be auditing your consumption of materials. On the most basic level, this includes what non-renewable materials are used in your products and packaging, and whether these can be recycled and reused afterward. However, it’s also important to look into whether these materials are sourced ethically and sustainably.
Your local environment benefits from your retail business. That said, your audit should also focus on the negative consequences of your presence in the community, and how to minimize them. There is a growing initiative that is mindful of how much space businesses take up and how this contributes to harmful urban sprawl. Engagement with smart growth can include looking into how you can share your retail property with other projects or businesses, shift to more compact premises, and preserve local historical buildings.
Keeping sustainability at the forefront of your retail business isn’t about tacking on measures. Rather, you should be aiming for a more holistic approach. This means learning how even the less visible aspects of your retail activities can be adapted to have a positive impact.
Alongside those day-to-day elements featured in your audit, think about how aspects like your loyalty programs and marketing campaigns can be more sustainable. Are you able to move away from printed advertising forms, or use recycled paper and ink for your loyalty cards and coupons? Can you help sustain your community by engaging local marketing experts, rather than big corporations? Digital methods can be a key tool here, not to mention that leaning into social media and digital content are not just more eco-friendly but can expose your business to a wider audience.
Holistic sustainability isn’t just about limiting your damage, it’s about having a positive influence in your community. Make concerted, genuine efforts to engage with causes that are important to local customers. Go beyond simple sponsorship and seek to connect meaningfully by offering expertise and volunteering for projects. Forging these connections tends to not only ensure the community continues to thrive, it also makes your business more important to the lives of your consumers.
Retailers that commit to sustainability as a key aspect of their business not only have the potential to meaningfully impact the world but enjoy a healthier bottom line. Commit to regular audits of your practices, and take an approach that prioritizes the holistic sustainability of your retail establishment. We each have a responsibility to the world around us, and we all benefit from environmentally and ethically conscious businesses.
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