Sustainable Retail: No Longer An Oxymoron Consumer-facing businesses don't need to be the antithesis of green

Sustainable Retail. Credit: Jonathan Cohen, FlickrCCRetail and sustainability don’t always go hand-in-hand. Retail is the top tier of consumerism, which is often considered the antithesis of sustainability. After all, if you want to be sustainable, a number one piece of advice you’ll get is to cut down on your purchases and borrow or recycle anything you can.

But it’s impossible to ignore the retail industry’s growth. Developing countries like India and China have massive populations that are starting to sink their teeth into consumerism. Companies that want to make sustainability a priority need to start stepping up their game.

Sustainability is here to stay as a necessity. Getting the retail industry involved is a huge step in the right direction — a step we need to take. The green fad has done some of the legwork for us. Here are some ways companies in the retail industry can stay responsible to the environment in a more permanent way.

Get a Plan Together

Any company that’s embarking on a new endeavor needs to have a solid plan. Starting with the idea of sustainability is good, but it might be hard to convince your bosses that it’s the right direction. The first place to begin is to look at what kinds of savings you can incur. Energy efficiency rebates are available for businesses at the local, state and federal levels through different resources. Research the options available and start your plan off by saving the company money.

From there, lay out a path. Initially, the company will probably have to spend a bit. But over the long-term, sustainability is likely to make money, not waste it. Lay out the path, with help from a business that specializes in it if you need some assistance. Make sure to include each section of the company, from IT to customer support, and the entire supply chain.

Start Recycling

Recycling doesn’t have to be a huge issue. Even small companies can start recycling their papers instead of trashing them. Just placing recycling cans in the lunchroom can make a difference. Other important steps are to turn off lights, power down computers and use recycled materials for business. But one of the best things a retail company can do, specifically, is to start using recycled materials for production.

You can buy a lot of things that are made from recycled materials. Notebooks, traffic cones, trash bags and carpets are just a few. You probably won’t be able to do this with everything, and it won’t be an option in all places — it would be pretty difficult to use recycled materials to make computers, after all. But just by keeping an eye out and trying to make small changes in the production line will make a big difference.

Go Green with Production and Transport

Any company that’s making and shipping products can clean up their plants and transport. Production facilities aren’t designed to be pretty, but they do use a lot of energy. The design of most facilities involves a large building, often with a flat roof and practically no cover. That makes it a perfect layout for solar panels. Other places, depending on the location, may be more suited to wind or geothermal power. Walmart and Target are actually some of the most solar heavy companies in the US, and they’ve reaped the rewards of their investment.

Transportation is another crucial factor. According to the EPA, transportation is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions among every sector. What you can do will depend on your company and where you are. Germany has the world’s first hydrogen-powered train, an option that will dramatically cut the carbon costs of transporting goods. Even if you don’t have that option, you can still choose the best available alternatives.

Try to transport as much material by train as you can. If shipping internationally, plan for the long haul and use boats instead of flying. If you can afford to, start to shift your shipping fleet from diesel to electric. Several companies have begun working to make that shift and, if you combine it with green energy fueling stations for your trucks, you’ll be able to power them without paying for any more gas!

Tell the People

All of these changes are for the benefit of the planet, but if possible, they should also benefit the company. Many people and even your suppliers will appreciate hearing about your new efforts. Start by getting your employees informed and encourage them to come up with ways to make their workspace greener. That gets them involved and makes it a genuinely company-wide effort.

Second, tell your customers. Include your goals in your monthly newsletters, hold a press conference if your company is big enough and post updates about it on your social media sites. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, make sure you also use the store to advertise your advancements. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of extra bragging when you’re doing something right!

Going green can be a challenging process, especially if you have to convince your higher-ups to get on board. But in the long run, it’ll make your company more profitable, attract new customers and even help cement your place in the industry. Businesses have to adapt to changing environments. Don’t be left in the dust!