Put your hand up if you’ve ever thought that sustainability is just another fad. Sure, it matters to the food industry, where wastage accounts for close to 40% of all supply. Yes, it matters to the oil and natural gas industries, as more aware consumers lookout for sustainable alternatives for their energy needs.

But how does a retailer go green?

In this article, we tell you why sustainability is important to your retail business, and how you can implement it in all your channels of sale.

Why Going Green In Retail Matters

Customers are beginning to shop with their hearts, and are willing to pay more to shop from a store that is green, or to buy products that are eco-friendly. Over time, being eco-friendly will become the norm and not the exception, and you don’t want to be left behind. As more and more consumers think about the amount of waste they are generating, they may just be tempted to not buy from a retailer who is not as eco-conscious as they are.

Simply put, human beings are consuming and wasting more resources than we can produce, and we’re also aware of this. Take the example of food- we need land to grow food of any kind. Crops need space, as do livestock and poultry. However, guess who else needs space?

That’s right, human beings.

We need space to live and build communities in. Land used for construction cannot also be used to grow food, and this puts pressure on land as a resource.

Let’s take another example that hits closer home. If you sell your products online, how well do you package it for shipping? Bubble wrap, corrugated boxes, air packets, thermocol sheets- we use a variety of material to ensure that a product is shipped safely. But what does a consumer do with all of this extra fluff?

They throw them away. As you know, plastic can sit in landfills without being degraded for millions of years.

This is what a landfill looks like.

go green - reduce disposal

Sustainability is important because we still have a long time to spend on this planet, and if we were to use up all the land, pollute all the air and dry up all the water, where else would we go and live, or do business?

7 Ways For Going Green In retail

Without further ado, here are five easy tips you can implement today and make a commitment to going green as a retailer.

1. Print only that which you need to

We print so many things every day- invoices, manifests, orders, reports. Most times, these printed sheets cannot be used for anything else, and often get thrown out once the job is done.

You can set up a system where invoices are emailed to your clients, as opposed to providing them with a physical copy. Likewise, can you have a policy wherein you email your purchase orders to your vendors and they send you an electronic receipt as well? Not only does it result in the less used paper, but it is also faster too.

Also, reports can be emailed and shared over your store’s intranet. Accounting can be done online as well. Come to think of it, there’s nothing preventing you from maintaining and using electronic copies of all the documents you need.

Understandably, shipping labels need to be printed. Some customers may choose to receive a physical copy of the invoice as opposed to an e-copy. Make exceptions for these situations, but make ‘less printing’ the mantra of your business, both in-store and online.

2. Rethink the packaging.

In a retail store, products are often packaged in boxes and then handed over to the customer in shopping bags. There are a few subtle ways to go green with packaging without seeming rude. For one, print cloth bags- they’re trendy and you can print literally anything on them. Encourage customers to use the bags while shopping by making them very utilitarian.

One way of going green in retail is to cut down on the in-store packaging. Every product doesn’t have to be wrapped in a series of printed paper and then put in a box- only the delicate ones do. If you are a seller of luxury goods, it is understandable that your customers expect this level of finesse. However, by communicating your intent to go green, through posters in-store and social media announcements, you can justify why you are doing away with all the unnecessary packaging.

Stores like LUSH Cosmetics encourages recycling by offering discounts when customers bring back the post in which they bought a product the last time.

If you retail online and ship products, it is much harder to get around the packaging norms and even harder protecting your goods with minimal packaging. In this case, look for recyclable products that serve the same purpose. Recyclable cardboard is widely available. Vendors such as Plus Packaging and Rajapack offer eco-friendly alternatives to conventional plastic material.

3. Tone down on electricity usage.

This is something you can do today. When you leave your store or the office from where you run your retail operations, shut down all systems and turn off all the lights. Do this for a month and see the difference it makes to your utility bills.

On a larger scale, you can consider installing solar lighting options in areas where visibility is needed all the time. You can also use LED bulbs that have a much higher energy efficiency so that your store setup consumes less power overall.

Software products that work on the cloud don’t need you to be logged in all the time. Even when you shut down your systems, they are still working to ensure that your business stays up to date.

4. Use eco-friendly cleaning supplies in your store.

We clean our retail stores every day, and sometimes we do so several times every day. The chemicals present in our cleaning supplies are not regulated, and almost anything toxic can pass right under the regal nose. As a result, we have innocent-looking products with potentially harmful compounds such as phthalates, ammonium compounds, and chlorine.

Over time, these products can be harmful to you. In the meantime, these products are washed down through the sewers and into water bodies. Here, they alter the natural pH of the water body, harm the animals that live in it and cause silent damage to the environment all around.

Simply switching to cleaning products that come from more natural sources can make a huge difference to this pattern of destruction. Baking soda and essential oils can clean even the dirtiest bathroom in the world. Store shelves can be wiped down with citronella to prevent bug infestation. Simply opening up the windows and airing the place out is often enough to prevent mildew. Olive oil is a great polishing agent for in-store furniture.

5. Plant some trees.

If you have space, go for trees. There is nothing else on the planet that uses up CO2 and makes Oxygen as efficiently as a tree. However, if you don’t have space for it, plants will work just as well. The broad aim is to increase the green cover in and around your store.

Bring in some earthen planters and grow some succulents- they need very little care. If you want to try something truly offbeat, seeds and planters make great gifts to the conscious consumer. Over time, invest in the betterment of a park or a garden as part of your CSR.

6. Reduce wastage

In retail, there’s an open secret- any stock that goes dead sold at a heavy discount. However, some brands don’t like to do this for fear of dilution. Instead, they trash this stock in landfills or even burn it. There is only one sustainable solution to this problem. You need to manage your inventory better.

Ideally, you should never stock more, or less, than you need. Luckily today, that is 100% possible with a good inventory management system. If you haven’t already invested in one, do so now.

7. Know the source of your products

Consider this- going green in retail today is not limited to reducing your impact on the planet alone. It also means reducing one’s impact on all its creatures.

That’s right- sustainability today covers a very wide scope from ethical product sourcing to selling locally. If you have the option, consider two things

  • Whether you can source your products locally or from a location closer to your consumers. This helps reduce the impact of fuel used for transporting stuff across the globe.
  • If you know where your vendors produce their goods. Particularly in apparel retail, the lines are never clear on who is the final garment-maker and whether they receive fair wages. What’s more, consumers are also wondering, so now is the perfect time to step in and find out.

Related: The Complete Guide To Opening And Operating retail Stores

So there you have it! Going green begins with one small step that you take today. If you find that the cause is your calling, you can explore several different ways of sustaining your green efforts, such as buying energy-efficient equipment, recycling most of what you use and buying upcycled fixtures.