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What are the best ways to become environmentally friendly?

By Will Gillingham

We’re firmly into 2019 and the environment is firmly chic.

Way back in March 2018, 73% of millennials were looking to buy ethically-conscious products, and the shift towards environmentalism has only bloomed since then. The environment has been identified as the top retail trend of 2019, and retailers such as M&S and the Internet Fusion Group are shifting their sustainability strategies to better serve the planet.

For retailers looking to connect with their customer base this year, placing the environment front-and-centre of your outreach creates opportunities to grab attention for the right reasons. But we understand it can be a little difficult to identify a pathway into sustainability, let alone see it through. In light of that, we approached experts in our community for their insight into the best (and most practical) ways to become environmentally friendly.

Here’s what they had to say.

Start Small

Refining your environmental strategy isn't something which can be done overnight, or even over several nights. It's gamut is a long, at times potentially arduous process, which will require a strategic reworking of your company's proposition. But optimising for the environment is a brilliant mechanism for connecting with your customers, and something which can be taken one step at a time. So, the first piece of advice is: start small.

Alex Ford, Sales and Strategic Development Manager at Vaimo, elaborates: 'What I have learned is to start small without publicizing any eco credentials and only once you are truly happy with the culture and steps you have taken in-house to then share them with your customers and wider audience. Respect your customers as they will quickly see through any campaign aimed to piggyback on the publicity gained from environmental claims and should this happen the negative press can often be more costly.

'That being said there are some great steps retailers can take to begin:

  • Packaging - Often one of the first areas that can be considered as part of an eco-strategy. Look at reducing and if possible using alternatives to plastic and bubble wrap to paper and wood solutions.
  • Delivery - This one is generally a much harder one to address for online retailers but there are still tactics that can be taken to improve eco credentials of delivery. Encouraging users to use drop boxes or collection points can be an easy way to reduce missed deliveries and additional vans on the road for re-delivery. 
  • Returns - Returns are one of the highest areas of opportunity for reducing environmental impact. Reducing returns is an ongoing challenge but ensuring product information is as clear and accurate as possible and areas such as sizing charts are as prominent in your page design as possible are some steps you can take to reduce returns. A good practice is to track and report on reasons for returns on a regular basis to see if there are opportunities to address the issues leading to return. When returns happen using services such as collect and swap from couriers such as DPD is one way you save unnecessary additional vans on the road.
  • Team - If you work in a particularly challenging industry you could consider ideas outside of the usual such as cycle to work schemes and lift sharing. Whilst not directly related to your products it shows to your team and customers that you are taking the steps you can to reduce your environmental impact on the world.'

We'll look at some of these in more detail below.

Sapling

Reduce Home Delivery

A significant portion of delivery vans on the roads are making home deliveries: a number which could be greatly reduced were retailers to present click and collect as the option of choice.

Mike Richmond, Chief Commercial Officer, Doddle, provides a full explanation. He says: ‘Millions of single journey home deliveries a day is an unsustainable approach to fulfilment if ecommerce continues to grow at the rate it is. It necessitates hundreds of thousands of vans clocking up millions of miles on the clock that could so easily be consolidated with single drop offs at click & collect or pick-up-drop-off (PUDO) locations.

‘Home delivery will probably always exist as an option – we all use it in the fulfilment mix at times – but other delivery choices and the impacts of delivery choices need to be made far clearer to consumers as the market matures.

‘At the moment consumer awareness and motivations around their delivery choices simply don’t map against their behaviour.  Three quarters (74%) of UK shoppers admit to just ‘automatically choosing’ home delivery (Doddle YouGov research, 2019).  

‘Yet in a significant shift, over three quarters (77%) now say they’re conscious of, or care deeply about, the environment when thinking about how they receive their deliveries (Metapack, 2018).

‘So, the will is there but it’s not translating.  Do a quick spot check of 10 shopping sites and it’s easy to see why.  Home delivery is still the easiest to find, default option, putting the onus on the consumer to seek out alternatives.

‘By flipping this to make click & collect alternatives commercially attractive and easy to find there’s a huge opportunity for retailers to have a significant environmental impact with millions of single delivery journeys a day consolidated and consumers incentivised to trip chain, combining say grocery shopping with parcel collection, saving yet more journeys.’

We concede that for pureplay retailers, working out the logistics of implementing PUDO locations into the operation might represent a challenge. However, for those multichannel retailers with the capacity for click and collect, making this a more prominent option for customers could reduce emissions while also potentially being cheaper to fulfil. However, encouraging greater use of click and collect can have an impact on other metrics; there is a tendency for lower basket values when using the option, for example.

As with everything, testing to see what works and the impacts it has on other areas of the business is an advisable approach.

House

Packaging

Packaging is the scourge of sustainability. Boxes can be too large, or packed full of plastic filler, and are usually only able to be used once. Packaging is usually the first word in discussions on sustainability, and for good reason. However, packaging is beginning to be optimised with the environment at the fore.

Sander Roose, Founder and CEO of Omnia, discusses the concept of the bespoke package. He says: ‘ecommerce-ready packaging is an interesting development, where manufacturers create special packaging to minimise total packaging and optimise the logistical chain. An interesting initiative is reusable packaging, which Loopstore have been experimenting with.’

Another good example of bespoke packaging is referenced in the Internet Fusion Group’s recent video, which describes their drive towards sustainability, where machines they have in their warehouses are able to measure and package individual items without the need for filler.

Localz have constructed a separate initiative which invites their Australian customers to return their packaging, and discuss the general embrace of ethical initiatives such as the bag-for-life and reusable cups, and how retailers should template based on these ideas.

Louise Robertson, Marketing Director, Localz: ‘Initiatives have been introduced by retailers which include the “bag for life” and reusable cups.  Applying this thinking to the last mile results in concepts such as the multi-brand pick up and deliveries. Localz have incorporated a geo-triggered reminder for consumers to take their bags into Woolworths stores which has helped dramatically reduced bag purchase at checkout.’

[Editor’s note – Woolworths still operates in the Australian market]

Overhauling the packaging strategy is something which is going to take a long time to execute, will require a lot of resource, and likely ask for a sizeable investment. But, as AsiaPay note, the retail world revolves around the customer, and the 2019 customer is green.

Matthew Foo, AsiaPay: ‘Customer satisfaction has always been the priority for retailers. That’s why the beginnings of eco-retailing are starting to appear in the market, and many green-related initiatives are being floated: from green buildings, to green products, green operations, and green supply chains.

‘The retail industry has become more challenging in recent years, and retailers will only survive when evolving their businesses to become eco-friendly and sustainable, while also creating shared value that benefits local communities. Social and environmental sustainability is equally as important as operational sustainability here, as it’s this that will strengthen the communities in which it operates, which will in turn appeal to customers.’

There’s one last simple check which retailers can do to turn around their environmental footprint, and that concerns environmental legislation.

Gift

Environmental Legislation

There are a number of EU regulations governing the environment which retailers should be conforming to. While these are discussed at length in another article, Comply Direct have listed them quickly here, while also advising retailers to explicitly show customers how to recycle.

Melanie Harper, Marketing Manager, Comply Direct: ‘The first thing is to ensure is that you are compliant with the WEEE, Packaging, Batteries and ESOS regulations. Once you are compliant, you should communicate your environmental credentials on your website. Displaying this on your website allows you to effectively communicate your compliance with the regulations to customers, prospects, affiliates and stakeholders as well as ensuring that you appear as a considerate corporate citizen.

Also show your environmental support by advising your customers on why they should recycle and how. Recycling helps to protect the environment through resource conservation, energy saving, and ultimately reducing the amount of waste that ends up being burnt or placed in landfill and/or our oceans.’

Environment

In Summary

The environment is fast becoming a mainstream trend and has been described as a ‘train coming over the horizon’.

Efficient ways to begin strategising with an ethically-conscious trajectory in mind are to assess your packaging, look at your delivery options, educate your customers on how to recycle, and understand the legislation.

It’s only through becoming environmentally aware that retailers will fully connect with their customers going forward, and, as the customer is the lifeblood of retail, it’s heartily recommended.

Will Gillingham, Content Executive, IMRG

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