Making retail sustainable, case examples and innovations 2021

Making Retail Sustainable, Case Examples And Innovations 2021

Release date: October 14th, 2021 (92 pages)
PDF/Powerpoint format. Price: GBP999.00


- A problem encountered when executing an all encompassing sustainability strategy is the sheer complexity of the topic. Definitions of sustainability include numerous ecological, social and economic aspects such as: CO2 emissions/protection of the climate, resource use, human rights, Fair trade, packaging/plastics, animal husbandry, reduction and avoidance of pesticides, reduction of environmentally harmful ingredients and substances, avoidance of food waste to name just some of the aspects.

- Virtually all aspects of retail contribute emissions, from the energy required for store operations and trucks, to emissions from farms and factories, to the energy used by customers to power their purchased devices. The industry can influence emission reductions of both suppliers and customers, and mobilise considerable action to address the climate emergency. Equally, investors in the retail sector have rising expectations around emissions measurement and disclosures, and concrete strategies for reduction.

- That said, the sustainability agenda is becoming much more important and prevalent and gaining much more traction politically, economically and in society at large. There seems to be a significant hardening of the overall position of activists and the wider population at large. Also another radicalisation process seems to gather steam, stemming from the belief that humanity has at most ten years left to act to avoid climate change and potentially disastrous consequences.

- While the green movement has been around since the 1960/70 we are witnessing another real change in its goals, tactics, reach and composition. There is a real urgency in movement around sustainability and we could see a return of much more radical activism (such as Greenpeace in the 1980s). Change is not only driven by activist pressure (from charities such as the WWF to Greta) but has also entered boardrooms, hedge funds, the banking sector and mainstream politics (such as the move away from petrol and diesel cars to electrics, the phasing out of coal, the move towards renewable energies etc)

- In a retail context demand for change towards more sustainability comes from shoppers (though how much they are willing to pay for environmentally friendly products is another matter) and also employees in stores/warehouses/logistics, most employees do not want to work for a polluter in general. It should be noted, that green washing does not cut it anymore (if it ever has). This will be a difficult problem to manage in the fast fashion sector, whose business model is built on a clear push to drive more consumption. There is a clear contradiction and inherent tension between the demands of sustainability and the goal of zero waste and chasing growth under a capitalist system.

- The examples of major retailers launching environmentally friendly initiatives described in this report have become a lot more commonplace in recent years. While we have chosen to write about Tesco for example, we could have also mentioned Sainsbury’s efforts or Carrefour’s. There is no scientifically established methodology to rank the various efforts, that has proven to be uncontentious. Though what we have noticed is that the overall level of engagement has considerably intensified and that the move towards net zero policies has progressed a lot over the recent decade.

- The BRC sees the majority (75%+) of emissions from retail coming from the production and use of retail products, but there isn’t really a scientific consensus on that for the simple reason that calculating emission footprints is fraught with difficulties, especially when having to decide which externalities to include in the data and calculations. So the BRC approach resembles one way of tackling the problem, but there are of course others.

- Perhaps another issue concerns the way innovations in the sustainability space often don’t lend themselves to making money by themselves but are rather targeted at providing services to existing corporations (such as data collection on CO2 footprints). On the other hand Tesla’s Elon Musk has become the world’s richest man by selling more environmentally friendly, electric cars.

- Indeed when looked at from a start up perspective the biggest companies being built in the EU right now are the giga factories needed for car battery production, which require enormous amounts of investment and government backing. In the retail space though much of the move towards becoming more environmentally friendly will not be about making money directly, but perhaps be seen as table stakes and cost of doing business, perhaps mandated by governments and demanded by shoppers.