Sustainability in Retail: Going Strong and Expected to Continue

The COP21 meeting has been underway for the last week, with just a few more days left to go. The meeting, an annual session which started following the 1992 United Nations Framework on Climate Change, brings together businesses, policymakers and other thought leaders to advance an important conversation on global warming.

The challenge for business leaders across all sectors is to translate the results of COP21 into actionable business objectives that also support their bottom lines. While many retailers have been focused on sustainability for a few decades now – transparency in supply chain and take-back and reuse of materials to name a few initiatives - the Retail Industry Leaders Association captures many of the industry’s current and emerging concerns in its sustainability report. Concerns go well beyond packaging and materials. According to this report, none of the five previously outlined sustainability focus areas are predicted to lose momentum in the coming year and more will be added.

While in years past businesses (including retailers) pursued sustainability measures as a result of regulatory pressure, increasingly it has become a driver of customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. According to a Forrester report shoppers notice things like whether buildings are LEED certified and how companies approach their recycling programs: customers do care and want to feel good about the places they shop and the brands they buy.

These concerns have expanded beyond the brand managers and packaging engineers. In addition to initiatives like supply chain transparency and business method improvement, retailers are also increasingly considering responsible use of energy and finding cleaner and more efficient ways to procure it. Power producers (traditional utilities and independent producers) are partnering with large commercial customers to create high-capacity, energy efficient solutions, some of them powerful enough to not only sustain the business but eventually return power to the grid.

For the first year, COP21 included a “Buildings Day” in its programming, significant for the introduction of a Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction which will set ambitious goals for development of high-efficiency new construction and renovation of older structures.  If these goals are met, they could achieve a carbon emissions reduction by 2050 that would compare to taking 630 million cars off the road for a year.

Amidst holiday shopping and closing out the calendar year, retailers and developers will have a lot of new topics to consider as they plan for growth in 2016 and beyond.

Related topics: Environmental, Green, Retail