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What Retailers Should Look for When it Comes to Sustainable Store Design

It’s no secret the fashion industry is the second highest polluting industry in the world (after oil), and as fashion’s dirty secrets come to light, brands have reacted to internal and external pressure to incorporate sustainability in their business model.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs are generally focused on improving material sourcing practices and managing the supply chain to meet ethical and environmental standards. Tackling this arm of an organization, though meaningful, is complex and costly. Often overlooked are easily obtained sustainability measures, which can be taken to make a retail space more environmentally friendly.

As veteran brands shutter their brick and mortar locations, previously online-only companies with a sustainable/socially conscious slant, like Everlane and Warby Parker, are filling the void.

These companies are perfectly poised to incorporate sustainable practices in their retail channel from the onset, while legacy lines can adopt easy measures to update their existing spaces. Even in leased retail, which accounts for the majority of stores in the United States, there are many simple steps brands can take to decrease their energy use, reduce their waste output and improve their store operations to be more environmentally friendly. These types of changes not only benefit the environment but also reduce costs and appeal to customers who are concerned with such issues—the coveted triple bottom line.

There are endless adaptations to the traditional store that can be made to “green-ify” the space, but here some of the lowest hanging fruit for any leased brick and mortar space.

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Reduce energy use and improve energy source

One of the easiest and most cost-effective changes a retailer can make is to switch all lighting to LED and add motion sensors to lights in the back of the house.

It’s also a great idea to engage the landlord to understand what the building’s main energy source is and if there is an existing or potential source for renewable energy. If no renewable energy sources exist, a retailer can try to petition with other businesses in the building for PV (photovoltaic) panels or a microgrid. If none of these options are feasible, participating in a carbon offset or REC (renewable energy certificate) program is a great way to offset emissions generated from an individual store or fleet of retail stores.

Reduce store waste and go paper free

Most cities require businesses to recycle, though often, individual business owners are unaware or not compliant with these regulations. One of the simplest things a retailer can do regarding waste management is to ensure that either they or their landlord (depending on who is responsible for arranging waste collection) is participating in a recycling program. Additionally, creating a fully digital POS experience where receipts are emailed and all store reporting is done electronically, removes the need for any paper at the point of sale. Eliminating the use of tissue paper, offering customers a discount for using their own shopping bag and using tablets to show look books and catalogs are other simple ways to produce less waste inside and outside of the store. A slashed budget for one-time use materials and marketing collateral is another added benefit.

Reduce waste in visual displays and sustainable interiors

The interior of a retail store transforms many times a year with each new product season or merchandise delivery. In its wake, discarded props are bound for landfill after only being used for a short period of time. Designing seasonal props for either reusability or recyclability is a great way to address this waste source and save on costs. To go one step further is to take a closer look at the supply chain for all prop materials, holding these materials to the same standards as that of fashion goods being sold in store.

Engage your customers

Partnering with a local charity organization or textile recycling company is an efficient way to provide customers with a responsible means to dispose of used clothing. Many retailers, like & Other Stories, are now offering this service for any textile waste regardless of the brand. Such programs give customers another reason to visit your store, and while they’re there why not look around, right?

Engaging with the local community by hosting organized volunteer days is a wonderful way to create brand awareness, build a loyal customer base and give back to the community. TOMS Shoes does this by closing all of their stores for a few hours every “Giving Tuesday” to allow their employees to volunteer.

The retail industry is changing daily with environmentally and socially responsible practices becoming status quo rather than the exception. Customer demand fuels change in the business world and there is countless evidence to support this shift in consumer priorities. In the United States, the millennial customer is the fastest growing spending group with substantial purchasing power. Studies have shown millennials are willing to pay more for products or services from companies that are socially and environmentally conscious. Considering adaptations to the retail space is a great place to start.

Janna helps retail and DTC companies design and develop effective sustainability solutions for today’s economic and environmental business challenges. She is a retail industry adviser at qb. consulting and a LEED Green Associate, with an M.S. in Sustainable Environmental Systems from Pratt Institute and a Fashion Merchandising Management degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology.