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#RetailEXPO19 designing a sustainable store

By Kathy Oxtoby

All retailers have a duty to play a role in achieving sustainability goals, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Speaking at this year’s RetailEXPO in the panel session ‘Leading the way to creating a sustainable retail business’,  Peter Andrews, head of sustainability policy for the trade association called on society to “wake up to climate change”, and to expect “very quick drastic regulation unless businesses ‘step up to the plate’”.

While he recognised it was “not easy to decarbonise”, he said retailers needed to “galvanise action now on climate change, or it will hit us hard”.

Andrews also advised retailers looking to improve sustainability “not to be distracted by Brexit”, and to “think about your business in ten years time and what it will look like”.

Ethical and sustainable retailing have long been critical issues, however recent UN warnings on climate change, emissions, waste, slavery, equality and more have brought this further to the forefront. Increasing regulatory and consumer pressure means that retailers are going to have to take radical action, and soon.

Commenting on what sustainability meant to her organisation, Giorgina Waltier, sustainability manager, UK & IE, for fast fashion clothing retailer H&M, said it was important to offer “great affordable fashion in a sustainable way”.

“We want to democratise sustainable fashion without a heavy price tag”, and to “maximise resources and minimise waste,” she said. One of H&M’s business goals is to achieve 100% sustainability by 2030 in its 2000 supplier factories – currently more than half (57%) fit that description.

Thomas Berry, director of sustainable business for online luxury fashion retail platform Farfetch, said sustainability was “part of the DNA” of the business.

Berry said when it comes to sustainability consumers find it a “confusing issue” and “hard to make the right choices”. However, they are also “looking for more than a T-shirt”, to make a connection with sustainability, he said.

To promote sustainability he advised companies to look at “new innovation business models” such as extending the life of clothes and recycling waste.

Retailers have been accused of ‘greenwashing’ - the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. To address this issue, Caroline Laurie, head of sustainability for home improvement retailer Kingfisher, advised retailers to “be transparent and open – you can’t hide behind greenwashing”, she said.

To create a more sustainable business retailers should “understand what they are trying to achieve”, said Berry. “Apply a sustainability lense –it’s the same as [dealing with] any other business problem,” he said.

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