Can you remember the good old days of 2019? Sustainability was the buzzword on the lips of consumers and many brands were making real progress in establishing better ways of working that were less impactful and damaging to our planet.
Then 2020 came along and a lot of that good work was forgotten, with environmental matters largely taking a back seat to health and business survival thanks to COVID-19.
But as parts of the world begin to move on from the pandemic and others look ahead to a better future, the phrase ‘Build Back Better’ has become the go-to slogan.
Governments and consumers have had time to reflect on their lives and the world at large, with many hoping this can be the start of a new, cleaner, more responsible and healthier age.
Can 2021 be the breakout year for sustainability?
Earlier this month, River Island announced it had joined the Better Cotton Initiative, which aims to assist retailers in transitioning to 100 per cent more sustainable cotton by 2023.
River Island isn’t a stranger to the environmental debate, spearheading numerous campaigns and programmes to help the ‘move towards a more sustainable fashion industry’.
In an interview with Redbox Digital in 2019 in the lead-up to a round table event they partnered on, Ben Lewis, River Island’s CEO at the time, discussed the work it did with a charity it co-founded 25 years ago called New Life. The charity took damaged goods from retailers to resell – not only reducing goods destined for the waste tip, but raising money to help families and individuals with disabilities.
Redbox Digital CEO Jonty Sutton believes digital retailers must lead from the front when it comes to sustainability and be a force for good.
He said: “River Island and other global brands are rising to the sustainability challenge after acknowledging they have a collective responsibility to make drastic changes to their business operations. The results of these changes are two-fold – cutting back on the damage that is being done to our planet and inspiring customer confidence in your brand.”
A report last July by research body the Capgemini Research Institute found
79 per cent of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness, or environmental impact. COVID-19 has increased consumer awareness and commitment to buying sustainably, with 67 per cent of consumers admitting they would be more cautious about the scarcity of natural resources due to the pandemic and 65 per cent saying they’d be more mindful about the impact of their overall consumption in the “new normal.”
There are many different avenues to explore to be a more responsible retailer.
Reuse: Can you encourage customers to reuse products as part of your service? We now think nothing of reusing our supermarket plastic bags, or Starbucks coffee cup. What about returns or faulty goods, can they be repurposed and sold cheaper, rather than be thrown away?
Logistics: Think about the last mile and what you can do to make this more efficient. More companies are turning to electric fleets of delivery vehicles or giving customers options of later delivery dates to cut back on trips. Online retailer Ocado lets customers see when other deliveries are happening in the same neighbourhood so they can choose the same day for fuel consumption efficiency.
Click and Collect: Have you thought about incorporating Click and Collect into your online business strategy? If the 17.1 million customers who buy online each week in the UK ordered via click and collect, just 4,600 vans would be needed for deliveries instead of the 170,000 used now, according to Doddle. Quite the eye opener.
Packaging: What are your goods packaged in? US start-up Limeloop estimates around 165 billion packages are shipped each year in the US, with the cardboard the equivalent of 1 billion trees. From recycled packaging to less boxes altogether, what is your business doing to become more sustainable?
The sustainability debate is extremely complex, often with numerous differing ideas on what causes less damage to the planet when manufacturing, transport and source materials are brought into the mix.
However, it is no longer an option to do nothing. Do your research, work out the areas of your business that can make positive impacts or less negative ones and invest in change now – and be part of the year of sustainability.