According to Business Insider, every year 32 billion garments are produced for the U.S. market. 64 percent of them end up in a landfill. While fast fashion is easy on shopper’s wallets, it is hard on the environment. Luckily for retailers, as more people are becoming aware of environmental issues and the impact shopping habits and manufacturing practices can have on the environment, consumer preferences are changing. 73 percent of millennials are willing to spend more on a product that is sustainable. Nearly half of consumers are also willing to pay more for products that are packaged sustainably. Going green is good business. In 2019. Customers want sustainable retailing practices, and they are willing to pay for it.
This past Earth Day, retailers large and small took the opportunity to announce new green initiatives. Gap Inc pledged to create a more sustainable supply chain by switching to sustainable cotton and reducing water use. Walmart now offers reusable shopping bags made out of recycled materials at checkout. H&M launched another Conscious collection. In total, the brand has launched eight Conscious collections, each with different initiatives. In their Earth Day collection, garments are made out of innovative plant-based fabrics, pineapple leather, and orange peels. Refinery29 reports, “According to Isak Roth, the brand’s Global Sustainability Manager, H&M is using this range as a starting point for their long-term goal of using ‘only 100% recycled or other sustainably-sourced materials by 2030.’”
H&M isn’t the only major retailer setting long-term sustainability goals. Walmart has partnered with HSBC to offer better financing packages to suppliers that are able to demonstrate progress on cutting carbon emissions. As a whole, Walmart has promised to cut one gigaton of carbon emissions from its supply chain by 2030.
Instead of reducing environmental impacts of traditional supply chains, some retailers are looking to change their supply chain altogether. Apple has committed to working towards a “closed loop” supply chain. They have slowed down their mining of materials like tungsten and lithium, and aluminum. Apple accomplishes this by encouraging customers to recycle or trade-in their old devices, often for a price discount on new product purchases. Apple then recycles the old devices and uses the materials to create new ones. To date, Apple has recycled about one million devices.
Thredup, a popular ecommerce resale site, has helped reinvigorate the fashion resale business on a national level. The resale market plays an important role in retail sustainability because it helps reduce the number of garments that end up in landfills and extends the life of products. According to Thredup’s 2019 Resale Report, the resale market has grown 21 times faster than the retail apparel market over the past three years. This kind of growth clearly shows demand for used, secondhand, and resale products, and profitability within that market.
National retailers are taking giant steps to go green. But, there are plenty of big and small steps independent retailers can take to move towards sustainability, including profitable ones.
Here are some simple changes any retailer can make to go green any time of the year:
1. Use Recycled Packaging
If you’re selling online, product packaging can be a big contributor to your company’s carbon footprint. We know that shoppers factor sustainable product packaging into their purchasing decision, so ditch the styrofoam peanuts in favor of recycled newspaper and reused packaging. Recycled newspaper may not make the prettiest package, but clearly state on your website and on the package that you reuse and recycle materials in an effort to make your business more sustainable. You’ll save money, go green, and earn respect from eco-conscious consumers all with this one simple change.
2. Ditch Plastic Bags
Many cities across the country are banning single-use plastic bags. Even if you don’t live in one of those areas, it’s a good idea to make the change away from plastic bags sooner rather than later. Instead, offer recyclable paper bags or reusable cloth shopping bags. Another popular strategy is to offer a small discount to shoppers who bring their own bags.
3. Start a Secondhand or Recycling Program
Take a page out of Apple’s playbook and start a product recycling program. Allow shoppers to trade in previous purchases in exchange for a discount on their new purchase. If you have an apparel, accessories, or homegoods store, it may be possible to resell some of these products at a lower price point by holding special resale events. Or, you could coordinate with a local non-profit organization to have them donated. This type of program will benefit the community and will keep customers coming back.
4. Source Products Locally
For independent retailers, one of the easiest ways to make your business more sustainable than chain stores in your area is by sourcing products from other local businesses. If you have wholesale manufacturers in your area, consider sourcing products from them instead of overseas or across the country. Products that don’t have to travel far from manufacturing to store shelves are greener because there is less fuel involved and less transportation emissions. Any locally handmade products, products made with local ingredients, or products made with recycled materials are also worth considering. If you do stock locally sourced or otherwise more sustainable products, be sure to advertise that fact. Shoppers love knowing where items come from and any stories behind the merchandise they buy. Plus, we know that millennials in particular are willing to spend more on a product that they know is environmentally friendly.
5. Reexamine Your Energy Use
When considering small steps for making your business more environmentally friendly, also evaluate your store operations. LED light bulbs are the most energy-efficient lighting option, so consider switching out the lightbulbs in your store. LED light bulbs can be more expensive than regular light bulbs, but you will see long term savings in your electric bill, plus they will last longer.
6. Go Digital
If you have a modern POS system, you should be able to easily send text or email receipts instead of printing out a paper receipt. Digital receipts will save paper and money. If you don’t have a POS system, there are plenty of reasons to upgrade other than digital receipts. But, sending digital receipts also means you are collecting customer contact information, which is helpful for tracking purchases, building your email marketing list, and creating targeted or customized advertising campaigns.
Going green is good for the environment, popular with customers, and can be very profitable. Regardless of your reasons for wanting to go green, there are plenty of small steps and changes any business can make to inspire long-term results.