How to go Beyond the Buzzwords of Sustainable Retail to Making a Difference

Sustainable retail

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Trust. It’s a big topic when it comes to customers.

After experiencing a pandemic that broke our trust that the government could keep us safe, that the healthcare industry could keep us safe, and even that a family member could not bring home something that could kill us, we all must rebuild trust.

Now, that might be an odd thing to read when I’m writing about sustainable retail or circular packaging options or using RFID tags, yet trust is what brings these retail trends together.

We’ve all seen those bins for years encouraging us to separate waste and recycle, but do we trust what is done with those items once they leave our sight?

What is meant by sustainability? It helps prevent the depletion of natural resources to maintain our ecology. We see the term used in conversations about apparel and the waste and landfills of disposable fashion.

A research paper published in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment revealed that "impacts from the fashion industry include over 92 million tonnes of waste produced per year and 1.5 trillion litres of water consumed, alongside chemical pollution and high levels of CO2 emissions.” 

To what degree can we, as consumers, trust an item is actually sustainable before it reaches us?

That’s why this trend report from Avery Dennison on the Regenerative Retail Economy caught my eye. Why regenerative? It goes beyond sustainable to a holistic approach where manufacturers, retailers, and consumers use resources sparingly and recycle endlessly.

Here are my top 5 takeaways

  • Consumers want retailers to help them make better decisions about their purchases. In response, retailers are investing in transforming their supply chains and digitalizing their processes and use - in particular, their labeling - to communicate the impact of a product to make it easier to understand
  • Returned merchandise is becoming a big focus and a returns revolution is brewing to make the process more sustainable while giving customers convenience.
  • No single retailer or brand can bring about the necessary systemic change on its own.
  • Customers are looking for retailers who not only align with their values but have the proof to back up their claims.
  • Having proof of impact will become the new standard for retailers looking to deepen their sustainability story.

You can download the Regenerative Retail Report here 

I was on a panel recently talking about sustainability, and I asked, Is a product sustainable if it doesn’t get a press release?

It's funny, perhaps, but there's some truth to it. Sustainability is all over the news, but why does it matter?

Plenty of consumer studies out there repeat the following:

  • Sustainability remains king for consumers; 
  • Health will shape the future of shopping; 
  • Brands must become purpose-driven and transparent

And who is this most driven by?

Gen Alpha

The majority of Gen Alpha members, 63%, said they are more interested in jobs linked to environmental protection than any other issue, according to research by the consultancy Censuswide for Wunderman Thompson Commerce. Nearly one in five would prefer to buy products not made from or packaged in plastic.

But isn’t this going to cost more? It might, but Gen Z prefers to buy sustainable products and is also willing to pay 10% more.

But many of those costs are coming down. Take radio frequency ID tags (RFID). A single RFID tag is a fraction of the cost it was just ten years ago, and it can automatically be included in production. The tags are recycled, but you can do more with them.

Before I tell you about that, I’m sure some out there believe the fringe theories that RFID tags track your location. No, while they are in the warehouse or in a store, the RFID tag has to be within at most 10 feet. And it is only tracking the tag, not the individual. There are no readers outside, and the radio frequency is slight.

What I like from a store and distribution center aspect is that when you go fully RFID, you can use a hand wand around the sales floor, register all the goods there, and use the information to upload to the cloud to analyze monthly and measure shrinkage. No need to count manually. That saves a lot of money because the staff does something better than tracking and counting. And it is quick.

But RFID tags can do so much more…

In 2018, Adidas embedded Near Field Communication (NFC) chips into soccer balls so users could purchase the original ball and could also get engaged with products/games, upload content, see where other people are using the ball, and use it as community building around the World Cup.

According to the Avery Dennison Regenerative Retail Economy report, Fashion brands Ganni, Scotch & Soda, and Levi’s have all begun to RFID-tag their inventory to achieve full stock visibility, meaning in-store stock can be used for web and store orders. Pointing to the sustainable advantage of RFID-tagged inventory, Karolin Stjerna, supply chain director at Ganni, said: ‘The opportunity to consolidate store and distribution center inventory allows us to use items where we need them. This eliminates overstocking and overproduction while ensuring our customers are still happy with us.’

If you are a manufacturer, logistic changes and supply chain challenges can be solved, and production and quality checks can be ended because of exact matching. Automotive companies with 2000 parts have used this for years across the supply chain to have full visibility control.

There’s a lot more both manufacturers and retailers can take away in the time it takes to read the full report, which you can download here.

Sustainability will not and should not go away. Combining technology and the correct materials is the winning combination for retailers and those who create their products. Use these tips to look at the complete picture to build consumer trust.

This post is sponsored by Avery Dennison