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How Retail Businesses Can Become More Sustainable in this Digital Era

Business technology just keeps on getting better and better – and the pandemic has helped to shift it up another gear faster than we all imagined.  Businesses have had to react to those changes, dramatically too – while many might argue those changes were on the horizon, no one expected to pivot so quickly!  Now, no matter where you live, there is less need to commute to an office or place of work and it’s easy to hold a meeting conducted on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.  Talking to someone thousands of miles away, in a different time zone is a breeze (as long as the WIFI’s working!).  There’s less need to dress for the office and seeing a cat creep across a computer while talking to an important client has become the norm!

Perhaps there’s some good in the pandemic.  It’s certainly thrown up focus on caring for our environment more than ever before.  Climate change, the susceptibility to more disease as we keep on encroaching on animal habitats and our own carbon footprint make headlines daily. Combining this fast-paced digital era with sustainability has also become a priority for businesses, so what can businesses do to make sure they are putting the environment first?

  • 1 Reduce Plastic Packaging

Retailers around the world have been under increasing scrutiny about plastic and non-recyclable packaging. Whilst the use of reusable carrier bags has substantially increased, helped along with the charge for plastic carrier bags; plastic and non-recyclable packaging is still largely seen in retailers and large supermarkets across the globe. The first step in becoming an environmentally friendly business is to reduce plastic and non-recyclable packaging. This can be done via a few different ways; for grocers, vegetables, fruits and fresh produce can be sold loosely with reusable sacks sold alongside the produce. Although paper bags are more sustainable that plastic packaging; there is still an element of material that must be recycled. Cut out the one-use packaging all together and provide reusable sacks that are only purchased by your customers once, allowing them to chose and select their own fresh produce. Another way to reduce plastic and non-recyclable packaging is to switch a recyclable material. Whether it’s clothing, food, appliances or another product, change up your packaging and opt for a sustainable option.

  • 2 Partner with Sustainable Suppliers

The world is more innovative today than it was yesterday and will be more innovative tomorrow than it is today; my point – technology is a constant growing application of scientific knowledge. There are more technologies, more start-up companies, more innovations, more solutions, and more change than ever before. You may have a supplier that you have worked with for a long time that you are keen to stick by, if so, speak to them, open up a dialogue and let them know your thoughts about becoming a more sustainable business, work together to try and reach an environmentally friendly outcome. The same way evolution happens naturally to animals applies to businesses – If an animal evolves to its surroundings it thrives, if not, it goes extinct. If your supplier is not willing to change or keep up with the times and innovate, then find a new supplier, because before long, they will go extinct. Sustainability is key to evolution and will be a key part of growth for businesses globally.

  • Better Modes of Travel

Travel is another great way that businesses can be more sustainable.  Post-pandemic, ask your employees if they could re-think their travel to work – could they walk if it’s not too far?  Perhaps they could bike in?  Could you make room for a bike park at your offices/retail store or place of work?  Of course, at the moment, sharing vehicles is discouraged because of the pandemic threat but once it’s over, is there a way of car pooling to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, and could you reward for carpooling – office treats?  If your business offers company cars, this is a good opportunity to switch to hybrid cars or electric cars.  It’s no secret that electric cars emit less greenhouse gasses.

If the intention is to use air travel in the near future, consider switching to train if possible, this will help to reduce CO2 emissions – question whether your staff need to travel at all, especially with video conferencing as an alternative?  If you or your staff must travel, look at flights on FlyGrn, this is a website that offsets carbon emissions by supporting solar cooking projects in Chad.

  • Go as Paperless as Possible

Did you know that 80,000 acres of forest disappear every day due to trees being cut down for paper use?  That’s a scary statistic!  You could play a role in reducing deforestation by going paperless and also promote healthier bio-diversity by planting trees as part of a company initiative to promote sustainability.  Ask yourself, do you really need to print out reams of paper?  Can you adopt electronic signatures instead for important documents?  If you do need to use paper – could you use recycled paper instead? Another excellent way to go paperless is by switching over to sustainable receipts with Airslip’s Smart Receipts (with the added bonus of gaining brilliant consumer insights!).  These receipts are sent directly to your customers’ smartphone – there’s no need to ever print out a receipt again.  Your customers will thank you too – no one wants a wallet full of receipts!

  • Donate Food Waste

If your company brings in food for its employees or has a canteen, don’t let food go to waste.  At the end of the day, rather than throwing away unused food, pack it up and take it to a food bank or to a local charity initiative for homeless or disadvantaged people.  There are lots of initiatives that collect food waste, here’s one – The Real Junk Food Project.  It collects food waste from supermarkets, cafés and restaurants and uses it to create meals for homeless people.  If your business is big enough, it may well take your food waste but most certainly, there are plenty of other initiatives or take your “junk” food to your local shelter.

  • Work from Home

Obviously, retailers in shops and department stores cannot work from home, unless there’s a headquarters with behind-the-scenes staff. If that sounds like your business, then this is a relatively easy win – especially as the last 12 months has seen so many millions of people re-think their work base.  More people than ever before are working from home and that means less need to commute, less cars on the road which results in less emissions.  In the UK, we know that 46.6% of people did some work from home in April 2020 and 86% did so as a result of the pandemic.  While perhaps during the next 12 months, there will be a shift towards people returning to their places of work – not everyone will though, and this is a great opportunity to encourage a balance between working from home and working in an office (or similar).  As an employer, do all of your staff need to be in the office every day?  Working from home isn’t just more sustainable, it creates improved work/life balance for employees.

  • Address your Energy Source

Clean energy is a great way to add extra sustainability to your place of business.  There are a few things you can do, you can add solar panels, not only will this improve your reputation as a sustainable business (if you choose to promote your initiative!), but you’ll also eventually reap the benefit with lower energy bills.  Although, there will be an initial outlay it will pay you back over approximately 5 years.  Other things you can do is turn your heating down 1 or 2 degrees to save energy and open windows rather than use air conditioning all day.

There’s no doubt that there are lots of options for businesses to be more sustainable for a better future.  Even adopting just one or two of the above suggestions will make a positive difference.  Choosing to make sustainability part of your overall business strategy and promoting your goals to your customers will impact on your reputation too, especially as a greener environment is a priority for people, with 74% of people wanting to reduce their impact on the environment.

What do you plan to do to make your business more sustainable?


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