Sustainability in retail today: More than just PR

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Stoyan Petrov, Senior Consultant discusses why sustainability is no longer a PR buzz , but is becoming a true mission.

We are slowly but surely entering an age when sustainability is no longer a PR buzz word for businesses, but is becoming a true mission- re-shaping strategies, products and services. Retail customers are no exception in their demands to businesses to boost their sustainability efforts and provide them with the opportunity to lead lifestyles with limited (or no) negative impact on environment and society.

Our first sustainability story is about Sainsbury’s commitment to cut 50% of their 120,000 tonnes of plastic packaging used every year by 2025. It will be looking at alternative packaging for items such as milk, fruit and vegetables, fizzy drinks, water and juices. What is more interesting is it’s comment that some of this step change will require a shift in customer behaviours and consumption habits. It is no easy feat to achieve such a mindset recalibration, so it will be absolutely crucial that Sainsbury’s design and launch the new packaging alternatives in the right way, to promote adoption while still keeping the products fresh! Sustainability is great, but only when it is convenient and doesn’t require too much effort in our already too cluttered daily lives, isn’t it? Perhaps, Ted Baker’s recyclable e-commerce box can serve as inspiration. It has already helped to exceed their 20% e-commerce box reuse target, reaching as high as 27%. It also shows how creative design can be used to help sustainability efforts while not hampering (or significantly altering) the customer experience.

One of the retailers defying the tough high street conditions – the Body Shop – is also looking to minimise its environmental impact by introducing refill stations for shower gel and an activism zone in it’s concept store in the heart of London. It is a bit of a journey to the past for them (as they scrapped refill stations in the 1990s), but it is very much grounded in a future-looking sustainability vision and conviction. The company is  further boosting it’s claim by introducing customer engagement mechanics in the form of vouchers for returned plastic containers from any brand. It shows that the days when sustainability resorted to one-off efforts are part of the past. In order to build trust in the contemporary environmentally-conscious customers, brands must infuse sustainability into their entire proposition and make it a consistent strategy and drive.

Finally looking a little bit further down the road, we turn our attention to Ocado where CEO Tim Steiner (perhaps in light of their upcoming new partnership with M&S) also has sustainability high on his agenda. He is looking to explore the potential of new technologies such as vertical farming to limit the carbon footprint of grocery retail businesses. So, instead of giant trucks criss-crossing Europe to bring you fresh veggies from the south of the continent, producers can now grow them sustainably and cleanly indoors thanks to falling LED lighting prices. This opens up opportunities not only for sustainability benefits, but purely commercial ones significantly slashing last mile costs and increasing the longevity of fresh produce (even without plastic packaging!)



Stoyan Petrov

Senior Consultant,  Customer Engagement





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