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5 Ways for Mid-sized Retailers to Make Their Businesses More Sustainable

Posted by John Liston on Aug 30, 2019
John Liston

68% of consumers consider product sustainability to be an important factor when making purchases. Align your brand with your customers' values and make your store more sustainable by implementing these best practices.

Sustainable fashion was back in the news ahead of the recent G7 Summit in France as 32 of the world's largest fashion brands signed a Fashion Pact that included a three-pronged approach to limiting the impact of the industry on global warming, biodiversity and ocean health. Highlights of the pact included targeting net-zero emissions by 2050 and eliminating single-use plastics by 2030.


This pact reflects a growing shift in the fashion industry which has been targeted by sustainability advocates and consumer pressure to lower the 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions that the industry is responsible for creating every year.

Beyond the potential environmental impact, the recent increase in sustainable fashion and retail is also being driven by the fact that 68% of consumers consider product sustainability to be important when making purchases and 47% of those same consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Brands and retailers are quickly embracing this new paradigm. Examples include Neiman Marcus investing in resale, Banana Republic launching a rental service, Rothy's flats made from recycled single use plastic, Nike's sawdust sneakers and even new fabrics made from old milk.

For mid-sized brands and retailers, making an authentic shift towards sustainability can be a challenge. However, given consumer sentiment, it is not a challenge that you can afford to ignore. With that in mind, here are Springboard Retail's top recommendations for integrating sustainability into your operations and marketing in ways that will provide authentic environmental benefits while aligning your branding with sustainability minded consumers.

1. Limit your outputs and inputs across your entire operation

You may have full control over whether your stores are powered by renewable energy or have a say in the inputs used in the supply chains of all your vendors, but there is plenty you can do to make your operation as environmentally friendly as possible. Start small by switching to LED lighting, limiting HVAC usage, going paperless and shifting to reusable bags. Then, over time pay attention to everything that goes into running your business and adjust to limit inputs and outputs wherever possible. If you have events at your stores, using sustainable supplies not only reduces your impact but also offers an opportunity to highlight your sustainable focus to your customers.

2. Leverage your stores for omnichannel fulfillment

One of the biggest sustainability challenges facing omnichannel brands and retailers is how to minimize the impact of your distribution channels. One key way to decrease the average distance each order has to travel is to leverage your stores as fulfillment centers. Chances are that a lot of your e-commerce traffic and sales occur in close proximity to your retail stores due to the boost to your brand awareness that you receive from your stores. By shipping items directly from the store, you have complete control over the packaging used and are able to minimize the distance your products are traveling.

3. Stock brands that prioritize transparent sustainability

One of the reasons that managing sustainability can be a challenge for mid-sized retailers is that the majority of wasteful practices and emissions outputs take place at the top of the supply chain. The good news is that the number of new sustainability driven brands is growing every day, while more and more existing manufacturers are adopting sustainable practices. The key is to do some extra due diligence when buying to ensure that the brands in your stores are sustainable. Equally important is to highlight the sustainable brands so that if your customers are more likely to opt for sustainably produced goods, they know which ones to purchase. One additional pro tip to pull it all together is to use custom fields to tag your sustainable products in your inventory management system. This way you can track the impact of your sustainability initiatives and are able to justify increasing your investment in sustainably sourced options for the next season.

4. Champion a cause

If sustainability is core to your brand's mission, one of the most effective ways to show your customers that you are seriously committed is by selecting a sustainability-driven non-profit organization and making donations tied to your bottom line. Options include donating a percentage of all profits, a percentage of profits from certain items or collections and hosting events at your stores with all proceeds going to your favored non-profit organization. If you are going to launch this type of program it's important to make a large and transparent commitment as today's savvy consumers have become finely attuned to businesses drafting off of non-profit missions without actually making commensurate donations. Easy ways to come across as authentic in your mission include sharing the monetary results with your customer base and avoiding overly defined profit-sharing arrangements. For instance, donating 1% of the profit from each sweater sold on the third Tuesday of the month does not come across as a genuine commitment to giving back.

5. Collect second-hand items with incentives even if you cannot resell them

Any product that ends up in a landfill before the end of its useful life represents a missed sustainability opportunity and 88% of consumers would like the brands they interact with to help make them more environmentally friendly and ethical in their daily lives. Using low dollar value incentives, $10 off your next $100 purchase for instance, you can incentivize your customers to drop off used products. If you are a clothing, accessories or home goods retailer you can even pilot a second-hand rack of used goods to capitalize on the trend towards used items. If not, you can still aggregate donations and then either donate them to organizations that can use them or recycle them appropriately. Either way, your brand will receive points for sustainability while your customers will have one more reason to stop by your stores.

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Topics: Inventory Management, Retail Tips & Techniques, Business of Retail