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EDITORIAL Sustainability now tops the list of shopper demands – so how are retailers responding?

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Apparel is just one area where sustainability is now a brand battleground
Apparel is just one area where sustainability is now a brand battleground
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Time to go green: how shoppers are looking to be more sustainable and how that impacts their brand interactions is going to shape retail in 2020

Images of turtles with drinking straws up their noses are powerful. The gently persuading charms of Sir David Attenborough, too, are hard to ignore. Even Greta Thunberg is having an impact. In fact, shoppers in the UK are suddenly very much aware of the environment – and it is set to have a rapid and profound impact on retail.

 

Sustainability and environmental impact have been hovering around the ‘to do’ lists of retail execs for several years. Now they are very much on that list – second only to cutting costs. And they are right to be so aware.

 

Research by ahead of HRH Sustainability Summit on 10th March from GlobalWebIndex, finds that a majority (80%) of internet users in the UK are ‘concerned’ about the future of the environment. Almost two-thirds (64%) of them state plastic pollution as their number one environmental concern and it seems this concern is being supported with direct action with more than half (57%) claiming they have reduced the amount of plastic they use in the last 12 months.

 

Consumers are also making substantial efforts to recycle more waste (71%), reuse products and materials (51%) and half of the UK are making a conscious effort to unplug devices when not in use.

 

While this centres on how they themselves are behaving, they are also increasingly expecting the brands they use to help them do this – and to follow their lead and be as environmentally aware themselves.

 

This is backed up by internal research from Pinterest, which looked at how the behaviour of its 320 million users around the world were behaving and found, unsurprisingly, that they were increasingly aware of the green credentials of the sellers that they they were interacting with.

 

For instance, product swaps, second-hand furniture and second-hand fashion were all trending highly worldwide. Additionally, there were huge spikes in pinners looking for advice on sustainable living, carbon footprint reduction and sustainable travel options.

 

The world has gone green.

 

For retailers this is a challenge. Many companies have eco-friendly policies in place or poised to be implemented. Many have corporate social responsibility policies in place. However, many don’t and they need to have.

 

This movement of people towards greener living isn’t about statements of intent it is about action. If your goods aren’t sustainable then an increasingly large cohort of shoppers will look elsewhere. A recent study by TetraPak showed that 97% of retailers are making sustainable changes due to consumer demand.

 

And this covers everything from packaging to manufacture to transport. Shoppers now want to know the provenance and journey – the literal one, not the metaphorical, X-factor-esque one Gen Zers go on about – the goods have taken – and if they don’t like what they find then they will go elsewhere.

 

Making this happen is hard. Like the tech revolution in retail, shoppers want these changes now, but to make them takes time. Time we don’t have.

 

Technology, however, also has the answers (if you ignore all those environmentally harsh heavy metals in phone batteries). One example out this week – at what should have been Mobile World Congress – is Ubamarket’s ‘Plastic Alerts’ app, which allows shoppers to scan every product in-store for information on the recyclability of any packaging. Customers are then presented with an overall "sustainability score" at checkout, to see where they can easily make changes to shop more sustainably.

 

This sort of tech is going to be what revolutionises both consumer and retailer environmental policy and it starts right now. While we all cower awaiting the impact of Corona Virus, it may pay to give some thoughts to how green we are going to be when we come out of self-isolation.

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