Sustainability in Retail: 7 Ways for Retailers to Be More Eco-Friendly



The past decade has seen a remarkable push by most of the world towards more sustainability in how things are produced, distributed, sold, and discarded. Individuals, governments, independent groups, corporations, and small businesses have responded by raising more awareness of environmental concerns, changing common practices, and asking for changes in laws and regulations.

One area that needs more attention is sustainability in retail. Day-to-day business operations produce a monumental amount of waste. And while the vast majority of it comes from the few biggest players in the retail industry, there are still plenty of ways that small businesses can have a positive impact by investing in sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Remember that you don’t need to necessarily make major changes to make a difference. There are some relatively simple ways to practice environmentalism and improve your small business.

1. Invest in More Sustainable Packaging

Packaging contributes a massive amount to a lot of retail waste. And while some packaging is necessary there is probably room to cut back on it.

Though we may be accustomed to them, there are many forms of packaging that are remarkably bad for the environment. Plastic, in particular, is a massive contributor to pollution in our air, land, and water.

Try to start by erasing all packaging. You won’t be able to eliminate it all, but setting the bar as high as possible is a great start. And when trying to minimize it, remember the three Rs – reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reduce the amount of retail packaging you use, reuse leftover packaging, and recycle what you can’t reuse.

See Related: How to Design a Green Retail Store: 4 Eco-Friendly Tips for SMBs

2. Ask Customers to Help

Overall, it seems that consumers want more sustainability in retail. And in retail, when consumers make a demand, businesses are smart to respond. And they don’t just expect retailers to make a change – most are happy to help themselves.

In fact, retail products that encourage less waste and more sustainability are selling faster than ever. Reusable coffee cups, shoes made from recycled materials, non-single use plastics, bamboo straws, and a whole lot more have flooded the market in recent years. These are a sign that the average consumer is in the same boat as retailers. So asking them to chip in the mission isn’t going to fall on deaf ears.

Try initiatives to encourage personal reusable bags (COVID precautions allowing, of course), incentivize purchases by pledging a certain percentage to eco-friendly organizations, charge a premium price for products that use more expensive, but less wasteful materials. It’s likely that your customer will respond and you’ll foster a positive brand image.

3. Market Your Sustainability

Don’t be afraid to market your efforts to be more sustainable. It’s not bragging to let customers know that you stand for more environmental responsibility. Most will simply be inspired by this reminder that they do the same.

Better yet, make sustainability part of your brand image. Eventually, you want your products to be associated with this trend. 

Focus on various arms of content marketing to get this message across. Let your shoppers know why you’ve decided to focus on sustainability, what organizations you donate to, how it betters your products and customer experience, and what your ultimate goals are as a business.

There are so many ways to convey this to your shoppers. Get creative and don’t be afraid to use your blog, email marketing, social media, and others to let people know who you are and what you believe in.

4. Raise Your Prices a Small Amount

Small businesses shouldn’t be afraid to raise their prices if it’s fair. You don’t want to gouge customers or raise your prices simply for the sake of raising prices. But if you are spending more on sustainable packaging, reusable materials, environmentally-conscious suppliers, local products, or building investments, most business owners need to make up that difference in their costs. Margins are often thin and even slight production changes can set back a business.

When you do change your prices, let customers know why you’re doing so. Again, most consumers are in favor of businesses practicing more sustainability. It’s important to realize the opportunity when there is a segment of shoppers who are willing to pay more for less product.

Ideally, of course, the added cost means that the product is also better. Great retailers have managed to improve the sustainability of their products and operation while also improving the quality of what they sell. Outdoors companies such as Patagonia or REI are great examples of this. Prices have gone up, and they’re higher than nearly all of their competitors. But they typically offer the highest quality products with warranties, free repairs, or exchange policies to back up their claims.

Keep these retail giants in mind when shaping your pricing and policies. The trend is growing so rapidly because it’s been remarkably successful.

5. Monitor Your Manufacturing and Suppliers

Your product sourcing is equally important. Take the time to do a sort of vendor audit and determine if their standards and manufacturing are up to par with how you run your own business.

Set up meetings with each of your biggest vendors to get an idea of the ethos of each company. When possible only work with vendors that share the same commitment to sustainability. Just as consumer demand must be met by B2C retailers, vendors need to respond to retailer demand. Likewise, you can also investigate labor conditions for any suppliers you use. Source from vendors that pay livable wages and provide safe and friendly work environments.

Plus, look into your manufacturing process. If you manufacture your own products, find ways to do so more efficiently. Look at packaging, energy use, pollution, waste, etc. Give yourself the audit so that you can confidently provide full transparency to your shoppers.

6. Use Clean Energy to Increase Retail Sustainability

It’s time that more businesses started considering where they get their energy from and how they can improve. This helps reduce the carbon emissions that you emit and will save you money down the road. Energy use is a major operating cost for most businesses, so cutting back will have a major impact.

Your local utility company will probably come by to provide an audit for your store. Even things like LED bulbs, lowering the thermostat, getting smarter appliances, and turning off electronics when not in use will make a big difference.

7. Minimize Waste

Lastly, just be more mindful of how much you use and throw away. Even for those who are constantly monitoring waste, there are ways to improve.

  • Go paperless with billing and receipts
  • Reduce packaging
  • Cut out non-recyclable materials
  • Recycle old products
  • Repurpose “lost” items
  • Donate damaged or expired products
  • Eliminate single-use plastics
  • Don’t use styrofoam

For more advice check out the rest of our blog. And for a great POS system to help manage your inventory and prevent wasteful overstocks, check out KORONA. Start a free trial below.


About the Author

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Michael Chalberg

Michael has long focused his writing on the world of retail and small businesses. He''s been a part of the KORONA POS team since 2018 and loves helping entrepreneurs find ways to adapt and succeed. In his spare time, you'll likely find him hiking somewhere in the Southwest.

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