How to go green (without greenwashing)


As the world strives to reduce global carbon emissions, it’s vital that retailers play their part. Ethical sourcing, better packaging, and practical carbon-reducing measures are all key ways for retailers to become more socially and environmentally responsible. 

But while it’s easy to say that you’re going to be more sustainable, putting it into place is a whole other task entirely. 

Getting practical

There are numerous practical steps available for the eco-savvy retailer, including using recycled paper whenever possible, switching all lighting to LEDs, implementing a comprehensive recycling program, using interior paints with no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), installing motion-sensors for lighting, using non-toxic cleaning products and introducing plants.

Complete an audit of your carbon impact and implement an action plan to reduce your impact over the next two years. This could include anything from switching to LED lighting to minimising your paper usage. 

One potentially easy way to improve is by switching to LED light bulbs. While a halogen globe is cheaper to buy than an LED, a good-quality LED lasts five to 10 times longer and consumes a quarter of the energy. Over the long term, your business could be saving both money and energy by making this simple switch. states that the up-front cost of LEDs generally has a payback time of less than one year. 

Perfecting your packaging

For retailers looking to improve their sustainable practices, packaging is key. Coleman Parkes Research found that 88 per cent of consumers want packaging to provide more information about sustainability, and 92 per cent of consumers would choose paper-based over plastic-based packaging. 

Further research from Mintel found a third of urban Australians prefer to buy products that are sold in eco-friendly packaging (32 per cent), as well as produced using sustainable sourcing methods (34 per cent).

Although paper can be both biodegradable and easily recyclable, it can also be the product of deforestation or poor forestry practices if not sourced sustainably. Thankfully, there are many ways of determining eco-friendly sourcing. 

Forest Stewardship Council certification, for example, supports responsible forest management worldwide. FSC-certified forest products are verified from the forest of origin through the supply chain, ensuring the product is from responsibly harvested and verified sources.  

Eliminate material that has been illegally harvested or traded in a way that drives violent armed conflict or threatens national or regional stability, especially if the related political or military regimes violate human rights.

For any retailer associated with productive forests and forest products, from the start of the supply chain to the paper packaging displayed proudly in your store, sustainable sourcing is a key element in becoming more eco-friendly.

Check your suppliers

To be truly sustainable, retailers must be able to identify, measure, and control the environmental impacts of their preferred suppliers and their products across their supply chain. 

Sustainability is about looking at the whole picture. Retailers should zero in on their supply chain and ensure that their partners are actively performing in a sustainable way, rather than simply saying they are. 

Consistently seek to improve chain-of-custody information and compliance, through annual reviews, reports, and actions in partnership with preferred suppliers. An ethical sourcing framework can promote sustainability and minimise the environmental impacts of supplier operations and products. 

Finally, consider purchasing upcycled and circular economy products across your retail brand’s categories, and increasing the number of products sourced from sustainable resources.

Avoid greenwashing at all costs

Consumers are concerned about being more environmentally and socially responsible and, therefore, expect the retailers they buy from and work for to adhere to ethical standards, such as environmental protection and sustainable sourcing. 

Conscientious and social-media savvy younger people like to know that they work for a business that cares about sustainability, and they have become adept at discerning whether a business is virtue signalling and greenwashing rather than taking genuine action. 

Customers are better informed than ever about the true cost of retail, and pulling the wool over their eyes can only work for so long. In the long run, greenwashing can only be detrimental to your retail business, so avoid it at all costs. It’s better to admit that you’re aware you have work to do than to pretend you’re already doing it.

Corporate social responsibility and sustainability are more than just buzzwords. Consumers and staff alike expect retailers to be part of the solution when it comes to environmental and social issues, so avoid it at your peril. 

It’s easy to take a few token steps, but it’s only once sustainability is embedded into the core of your retail brand that you can become genuinely sustainable. 

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