By Mohammed A. Baker
As the issue of sustainability becomes even more high-profile, Gulf Marketing Group's CEO, Mohammed A. Baker, looks at how global corporations and not just niche retailers can offer customers an ethical, green alternative
Sustainability is one of the most significant values emerging across the global retail sector today.
Driven by consumers and their increasing preference for purchases that have ethical and sustainable connections, the movement is one that is transitioning from niche retailers to global corporations.
As awareness of the importance of making more environmentally-conscious decisions grows, retailers have the opportunity to tap into an expanding consumer sector that not only appeals to customers, but that does good for the bottom line, too.
The definition of sustainable retail is wide and can have an impact on every aspect of the business. Amongst other things, it can refer to products that have sustainable origins in that they are sourced responsibly, produced ethically, recyclable, have plastic-free packaging, or are local and therefore have low logistics emissions. At surface level, sustainable retail is about the products sold. As this is also one of the easiest places for a retailer to start when they embark upon a journey towards sustainability, it’s worth focusing on.
In one recent study by PwC, 35 percent of global survey respondents said they choose sustainable products to help protect the environment . A separate report by Nielsen notes that over 80 percent of global respondents felt strongly that companies should help improve the environment, and that consumer expectations are actually higher in emerging markets.
Another international study conducted for Futerra by OnePulse revealed that 88 percent of consumers in the USA and UK want brands to help them be more environmentally friendly and ethical in their daily life.
In other words, customers want us, retailers, to help them to make a real difference.
It’s essential to remember that any change made, however small, must be real. Greenwashing brings no value to a brand or to the environment
Retailers who ignore the shift towards sustainability run the risk of losing a significant segment of their current and future customers. Even established organisations can make the shift towards sustainability, and there’s no better time to take the plunge.
There are many surface changes that a retailer can make to work towards this. While changing an entire inventory overnight isn’t going to happen – and may not even be possible – every little bit counts. Switching from plastic to paper bags, for example, is an easy enough first step. Adopting a ‘bring your own bag’ model, perhaps even accompanied by incentives, is even better. Going packaging-free or offering recycling facilities is another simple step to help customers do good.
There are also no right or wrong ways to become a more sustainable retailer. Each business will require its own unique approach depending on the products they offer, the size of their operations, whether it’s brick-and-mortar retail or blended with e-commerce, and of course the consumers that are passionate about their brands.
While change is undoubtedly the way forward, it also isn’t something that can be achieved quickly. It’s an ongoing journey with each step building up to the next. The region’s retailers must take a longer-term approach to the sustainability movement. It’s essential to remember that any change made, however small, must be real. Greenwashing brings no value to a brand or to the environment.
In short, there are practically limitless ways in which sustainable practices can be applied to business, especially retail. Yet our industry is in a unique position to empower consumers to live more sustainably through everyday shopping choices. It’s not just good policy but good business, and there is no time like today to begin.
Mohammed A. Baker is CEO of Gulf Marketing Group