Retailers are in a prime position to lead customers toward sustainable solutions, and no matter their size can find ways to meet both customer expectations and keep their profit margins healthy.
One of the key factors to truly becoming a sustainable retailer is a real commitment from leadership. Environmental and social governance (ESG) targets should be given as much priority as other parameters. Data collection, reporting and analysis of sustainability within the business performance should be given the same level of attention as costs and profits.
ESG should focus equally on environmental factors as social ones, with an emphasis on sourcing sustainable products and employing sustainable inputs throughout supply chains.
The deployment of digital technology and AI helps companies to make decisions based on data and real-time information. Programmes that manage emission measurement, for example, of both the retail business and their suppliers can be adopted to improve sustainability.
Investment in education and relationships, alongside initiatives such as long-term purchasing agreements for suppliers who make the required changes, ensures greater commitment from all parties to include sustainability in their business plans.
The retail executive team is responsible for prioritising sustainability in their business model - leading from the top and holding the business to account. Well-performing sustainable retailers consistently publish KPIs internally and include sustainability metrics in their business reporting. Some even tie ESG performance to staff bonuses and other rewards.
Sustainability goals should be ranked as an equal priority as sales targets, individual performance goals and cost centre targets.
Digital data tools help retailers of all sizes set and measure these targets, providing exact measurements based on customisable parameters plus snapshots of performance for given periods of time. These tools can help establish realistic and achievable goals in the areas of sustainability while targets should be chosen to suit the retail sector your company fits into.
To truly prioritise sustainability in your retail company, embedding the concept into each element of the business is essential. This means end-to-end inclusion of sustainable practices such as energy-efficient equipment, lights and appliances, minimal paper use where possible and a conscious effort to reduce waste and recycle including using sustainable packaging.
This commitment includes using suppliers and supply chains that also demonstrate energy efficiency and adhere to low-waste business policies.
Part of your business model should include marketing that advertises your commitment to a sustainable future. Sustainability presents a huge opportunity to attract new customers, introduce new ways to sell, create new partnerships, adopt the most advanced technology and take your business in a direction that firmly places ESG in a prime position.
Promoting your retail business as a leader in sustainability will attract the volume of customers who actively seek to purchase sustainable products first, and will look to embrace sustainability with suitable partners such as etika, who offer inclusive interest-free payment plans at the point of purchase.
Greenwashing has recently come into focus as major brands attempt to hoodwink their customers with false sustainable credentials. Greenwashing is the act of promoting green initiatives while continuing to produce goods that damage the environment.
Greenwashing marketing can include claims that one company is less bad than another, such as an airline promoting itself as being less polluting than its competitor, or displaying images that imply a level of sustainability that is not backed up in practice.
Examples of this are Nestle’s claims of recyclable packaging, leaving the issue of recycling to governments and consumers and ignoring low sustainability practices by its suppliers. Coca-Cola is another famous greenwashing company that in 2021 held the title of largest plastic polluter worldwide, with 100% recycled plastic bottles but no commitment by the company to actually recycle their own bottles.
To avoid becoming a greenwashing retailer, you need to ensure your sustainability programmes are integrated and embedded throughout the company and that all marketing and promotions reflect the reality of your business models.
The more you can honestly promote sustainable practices the more appeal you will have to customers. Sustainable packaging, green supply chains, ethically sourced raw materials and social governance around manufacturing are all part of being a sustainable business.
As support for ESG-strong retailers increases, investors and customers alike will reward your sustainable business model.
Retailers who make a serious and long-term commitment to sustainable business practices will see many benefits alongside the important goal of reducing emissions and keeping the planet healthy. When executive leadership rank sustainable targets as equal to cost and sales targets, retail businesses can build a loyal and growing customer base and can genuinely promote themselves as sustainable.
Customer commitment to sustainability can be enhanced with access to an inclusive and fair finance product such as etika. etika provides a shopping pathway and a finance solution that is easy to navigate. Finance is subject to etika's eligibility criteria and credit assessment.
Retailers looking for an ethical finance partner should consider including etika in their journey towards strong ESG responsibilities.