Sustainability in retail: trend or necessity?

Grocery stores and other retail shops focused on hygiene and safety during the Pandemic, which was expected. However, sustainability in retail remains a key priority for customers. How can retailers adapt and offer sustainable alternatives if they have more pressing problems, like the supply chain?

In this article, we are going to focus on sustainability in retail. We’ll talk more about what sustainability really means and how retailers can offer sustainable alternatives to shoppers. Also, we’ll take a look at how retailers can advertise their sustainable approach without greenwashing.

What does sustainability mean?

First off, let’s see what sustainability means and how it applies to the retail industry. In simple words, sustainability means meeting our needs while also maintaining the ability of other generations to meet their needs. Sustainability relies on finding ways to fulfill our needs without too many resources. For instance, reusing grocery bags and avoiding the use of plastic because it pollutes. 

In retail, sustainability comes from both the retailer and the consumer. It can be split into two categories: sustainable retailing and sustainable shopping. When these two are combined, they can limit pollution and help the environment. 

Sustainable retail for grocery stores?

While some might think that sustainability in retail refers only to reusing materials to make clothes, grocery retailers can also make changes to become more sustainable. 

Actually, 80% of consumers would like supermarkets to reduce their environmental impact. Customers are becoming more conscious because they see the impact of climate change and they want to protect the environment. Because of this, they are also expecting grocery stores and other retailers to make changes and to offer sustainable, green alternatives. 

While it might seem hard at first, there are a few changes that grocery retailers can do to protect the environment without affecting the quality of their products or services. 

Top 5 sustainable changes for grocery stores

1. Ban single-use plastic bags

This is a small change with a great impact. Considering the fact that a plastic bag needs 1000 years to decompose, replacing plastic bags with biodegradable ones will help avoid pollution for hundreds of years. Another alternative is to offer bags made out of cotton or other fabrics that can be used multiple times. However, shoppers are the ones that can make this change.

2. No more plastic packaging

Plastic packaging is another problem and many retailers already found ways to change this. While plastic is a resistant material that prevents leaks and keeps products fresh, there are a few alternatives that retailers can use. For instance, Aldi stores are going to replace all plastic packages with reusable, recyclable, or compostable materials by 2025.

3. Help shoppers recycle easier

Recycling is a great way to protect the environment. However, in many countries, people don’t even have enough places to recycle garbage. Grocery retailers along with brands should make it easier for people to recycle. Stores could place recycling bins in front of their stores and offer discounts to encourage people to recycle. Also, brands should focus on labeling their products in such a way that it is intuitive for people to recycle them. 

4. Reduce food waste

One of the biggest problems in grocery retailing is food waste. Grocery stores are responsible for 10 percent of all food waste in the United States. One great way to reduce food waste is to donate it to local food banks or shelters. 

5. Reduce overall waste

When it comes to promotions, grocery stores rely on cardboard displays and end caps that are made out of plastic and carton. Once a campaign is done, these products are thrown away. However, there are ways to avoid waste. For instance, Tokinomo can be used for different in-store advertising campaigns. Retailers can change the message of the campaign from Tokinomo’s cloud application and move on with the campaign. Less waste, more entertainment for shoppers. 

Brands and retailers that focus on sustainability

1. Kroger 

The third biggest retailer in the US is making a lot of changes to protect the environment and focus on sustainability. Its plan called Kroger’s Zero Hunger Zero Waste is going to include a few initiatives like making its packaging 100% recyclable and compostable by 2030. Also, they plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.

2. Unilever

Unilever is a CPG brand that cares about the environment and knows how to show it. They have been promoting their green marketing initiatives for years and it became a part of their brand identity. They promote the use of recycled materials that don’t harm the surrounding areas. Unilever also encourages environmental awareness by offering green alternatives. 

3. Grain Train

This local cooperative from Michigan started out as a sustainable grocery store. The retailer only works with producers that:

  • don’t use health-adverse substances
  • don’t test products on animals
  • respect the rights of their workers
  • always lower their environmental impact

Avoid greenwashing 

While some retailers and brands are making changes and offering people more sustainable choices, other businesses only advertise these changes without making them. This is a common problem and it is called greenwashing. 

Greenwashing means falsely advertising that your products are bio, green, or sustainably sourced. As you might expect, greenwashing affects the image of your brand and it can impact customer loyalty and sales. People hate being lied to and they won’t buy your products if you falsely advertise them. 

There are a lot of examples of FMCG brands that were even involved in lawsuits due to greenwashing. Some of these examples include Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle. These brands made promises or labeled their products as being more eco-friendly than they actually are. 

Is sustainability in retail a simple trend or a necessity?

Some might say that sustainability in retail is just a trend caused by Millennials who are always looking for healthy options and environmentally-friendly products. However, considering the effects of climate change, the health risks of pollution and the rise in consumerism, sustainability in retail seems to be a necessity at this point. 

Retailers that want to please conscious consumers need to step up and try to find more eco-friendly alternatives to packaging, promotion, and distribution. 

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