In today’s world, corporate success is measured through its profits – rather than through the quality of the final product, how those profits were made or how ethically, sustainably, mindfully those profits were made. This leads to the wasteful and unethical practice that has been the demise of many leading high street brands.

Focusing on profit without the consideration of a businesses impact is outdated and risky in today’s retail industry. Social and environmental impact can no longer be ignored. Any business plan that is purely focused on maximising profit, rather than a businesses positive impact on both people and the planet is not one with a healthy future.

So, do we need to choose sustainability over profit, or can they coexist?

As a marketeer’s department tends to be seen as a cost centre, let’s look at the most cost-effective ways we can push our companies towards sustainable profit.

Look for clean energy options

Renewable energy is becoming cheaper and more readily available, so with energy being the fourth largest in store operating cost for retailers after labour, rent and marketing – This huge and unavoidable cost can be seen as an ‘investment’ into one of the green companies of the future.

The switch to renewables is relatively inexpensive, adding less than 1% to power bills, according to Bain & Co. With the returns far outweighing the costs, this is the first large step towards a greener business.

So, with renewable energy as our first stepping stone, we can’t be squandering these resources in store – let’s talk about waste.

Cutting waste

Communication is key here – get your teams on board. Not only will this positively affect their morale as they take an integral role in pushing your company in the right direction, but it will also positively affect your businesses pocket. It is a team effort to reduce your businesses waste. Invite your store employees to think about their carbon footprint at work. For example, turning off lighting before leaving the premises, closing doors and windows to maintain heating, highlighting leaking taps or broken appliances. Targets and incentives can be put in place to reward efforts, however I’d like to imagine that just taking a few steps to help save the planet is enough of an incentive here. The best green companies will have a ‘eco quest’ in place to consistently push towards minimal waste from all outlets.

One of the biggest physical waste quantities seen in store is packaging. Ask your suppliers to minimise packaging or offer a recycled option. Physical waste is also a big cost to a retail business, with many having to pay for this to be removed from the premises, so a reduction can only be a positive. 

Recycle

A great example of this is in the greeting cards industry, where the environmental impact of such a product is clear, especially at the end of a season when you come to dispose of an average 33 greeting cards per person per year (Progressive Greetings). Unfortunately unbeknown to those who may try to recycle these, many parts of a greeting card including the glitter or foiled parts cannot be recycled and will end up in landfill.

Sainsbury’s and M&S know that within their corporate social responsibility (CSR) they needed to balance this waste. The schemes set forward by these two retailers will see signposted bins placed in multiple stores, where customers can leave both their used greeting cards and wrap. The bins will then be collected and contents recycled. A donation will then be made to their chosen charities, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Woodland Trust, dependant on the quantity collected. TheWoodland Trust’s goal was to plant one tree for every 1,000 cards collected. In 2013 M&S collected 8 million cards across 300 stores, resulting in the charity planting 8,000 trees. What a result!

Corporate Social Responsibility 

By switching to renewable energy, cutting waste, recycling and beyond, your business is demonstrating to stakeholders and customers that they support regulatory and public initiatives towards a low-carbon economy. Being seen to invest in green activities enhances corporate reputation will help to retain and even win new customers. 

93% of global customers expect more of the brands they use to support social and environmental issues, according to a report by the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). The same report found that customers would spend up to 20% more on environmentally sound products.

Pension

After the government bought in the new pension scheme recently, many of us accepted this as a happy added benefit or an unwanted cost depending on how it was viewed. However, what if we looked at this as an opportunity. One of the best ways to invest ethically is through your employee pension scheme. By contacting your pension provider, you can switch from whatever the default may be (note, this is often a poor performer) to one of their ethical options.

With ethical and environmental businesses showing the fastest growth this is often a beneficial switch for all parties.

NB return is not guaranteed.

Think smart, start small and the rewards will follow.

by Alice Bartlett

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