Sustainability and green retail can no longer be considered a passing trend. Consumers have made it apparent that there is not only a significant market for sustainable products and stores but that the demand has grown to become an essential part of shopping preferences. As a result, the high street is changing. What started with relatively minor adjustments made typically by forward-thinking retailers has now become an entire restructuring of the way in which retailers operate.
Similar shifts are happening in the hospitality industry too, which is perhaps best represented by the transition many cafes are making away from single-use coffee cups. Many stores have begun rewarding customers who bring their own reusable cups, with brands such as Pret a Manger offering discounted coffee prices for those who do. This equates to a charge for a disposable cup, running parallel with retailers who have begun to charge for plastic bags, rewarding customers who bring their own.
Here is how customers are pushing for more sustainable retail.
Entering a store on the high street and choosing to support their products has always been a practice of aesthetics. Customers select certain brands because of their potentially positive associations or because the brand reflects their taste. Now, the same is true of sustainable practices.
Brands that are explicit about their environmental focus are being rewarded by shoppers who want to see their ethical decisions showcased. Interior designs, from locally manufactured shop shelving and slatwall panels to low energy lightbulbs and upcycled display materials, are drawing in new customers who are drawn to brands and retailers are clear about their ecological intentions.
Single-use plastic bags have almost entirely disappeared from the high street, certainly those given for free, with paper bags being a common replacement. Receipts are becoming digital, being sent to customers online. Packaging is being made from recycled or upcycled materials. Clothing labels are even being attached with reusable string instead of plastic tags.
These small changes are happening in tandem with each other, making for an overall more sustainable high street. Customers no longer want to be burdened with excess or wasteful packaging and are refusing to accept them, leaving retailers with the responsibility to put it to use.
High street retailers are feeling obligated to be transparent about operational decision making such as their manufacturing processes and terms of employment. Brand reputations can quickly be celebrated or ‘cancelled’ depending on the information that is discovered and shared online. For many, this can work as an advantage. Timpsons, for example, found great popularity and success online during the pandemic due to their ethically minded employment decisions, such as employing prison leavers.
It is then in the interest of a business to be open about their practices, promising that they are likely to be perceived as good. Customers are expecting conversations to be had and, in the absence of transparency, often assume the worst.