As innovators and creative thinkers, our most important opportunity is designing out waste and designing in sustainability

Sustainable Retail Design - Are You 2030 Ready?

Retail, at its core, is rethinking waste, recycling and its responsibility to do better.

Global climate action is stepping up a gear as the crisis magnifies. How will this urgency drive new behaviours in the retail industry? While there is increasing scrutiny into products and production, the physical retail space will become more accountable. Moving into the most crucial decade to counter climate change, how can we create physical retail spaces and experiences that are good for the planet?

Pioneering environmentalist and Founder and CEO of Patagonia Yvon Chouillard has not only built a world-recognised outdoor wear brand but has raised over $200M towards environmental charities since 2006. Even so, in his recent article this week 'The Sustainability Myth' he threw doubt over whether this was enough:

 “You want the truth? It’s hopeless. It’s completely hopeless.” 

As consumers demand more, and turn their backs on the businesses not addressing climate change, it's time to take drastic action.

‘Be bold or die’

Danone CEO, Emmanuel Faber, left no doubt that businesses need to take charge at the Sustainable Brand Summit in Paris this year.

Brands taking charge

The world’s populations look to brands as their allies, their collective. This tribal relationship means brands need not only share our beliefs but champion and pioneer future solutions. Brands need to be useful and move beyond profit to touch hearts and minds, helping their collective on their journey to more sustainable behaviours.

Ikea’s Chief Executive Torbjorn Loof sees this as a great opportunity, setting clear targets for sustainability and ‘nailing a number of commitments without having all the solutions’. At the Climate Policy Conference in Katowice recently, he made it clear that Ikea is aiming to take a lead in climate action as a business, urging policymakers and politicians to match this kind of commitment.

New behaviours for 2030

Sustainability can make sense economically as well as ethically for retailers. According to the Carbon Trust, a 20% cut in energy costs represents the same profit savings as a 5% increase in sales. 

Between the Paris Agreement's Global Sustainability Goals, the UN’s Sustainable Building Guide and the EU’s Climate and Energy Framework there are three clear actionable ways we can make our retail spaces better:

1. Reduce materials and waste in store

Retail spaces can be very material hungry. As we move towards 2030 we will have to be a lot cleverer in how we design out waste and create sustainable spaces.

Brands reducing materials well:

We are currently working with Co-op. Having audited all of their store communications and messaging, we have evolved new systems that avoid toxic ‘quick fixes’ like vinyls, instead using sustainable materials and modular systems that can be reconfigured multiple times. The incredible feat of the project is that their sponsor wants us to open-source all of the innovations once the project is implemented. What a signal to other retailers. A new attitude towards sharing the wins knowing the benefit they will have beyond individual brand IP. Lee Broadbent, Format Identity Manager from Co-op says:

"Sustainability is something I want to implement and develop in our store signage, alongside other sustainability initiatives we are working on as a business. YourStudio felt the perfect fit for this, sharing our passion and vision in sustainable design."

This also encourages sustainability beyond the store environment by creating messaging which encourages customers to recycle at home and also gives them the opportunity to donate to local charities helping planet and people on exiting.

M&S are not only stripping back on plastics in store but bringing new recycling bins into store that allow customers to recycle any plastic waste they have. This plastic is then recycled into panel materials and equipment for children’s playgrounds.

Brands reducing waste well:

Lendlease, a property landlord and developer is leading the way in retail at a placemaking scale. Their development in Barangaroo, Sydney, has grey water systems where 100% of the water is recycled. They are aiming for 100% zero waste and are pioneering new building techniques using sustainable timbers. Many of the expertise they have developed with the company is being shared globally. Members of their development team like Andrew Cole, Lendlease’s GM of Sustainability, sits on global UN’s Sustainability Panel in Australia. A brilliant case of a brand leading the way for governments.

“We are committed to leading the evolution of our industry to be truly sustainable – environmentally, socially and economically. This is fundamental to our vision to create the best places, places for people today and for generations to come."

A number of brands have also started rewarding customers for recycling. H&M stores around the world have piloted recycling bins for old clothes which are now in 4,500 stores. Customers receive a £5 voucher towards their next purchase for donating old clothes, giving them more than just an ethical incentive. Earlier this month, H&M announced that it is well on its way to using 100 per cent sustainable materials in the manufacturing process.The fashion label hopes to be 100 per cent sustainable by 2030.

2. Reduce the store's energy footprint

As low-energy tools like LED lighting become standard, we will be looking to brands to champion new energy models from renewable energy to actually produce energy for the grid.

Ikea have considered how their new store locations are closer to local transport links, how the building materials are low impact and how, through solar panels, they can provide their store spaces with 100% renewable energy.

Selfridges’ navigate the line where sustainability and luxury meet. Reducing carbon emissions by 15% by 2020, reducing total waste by 14% and increasing overall recycling by 70% was their goal for 2020 which they delivered on early. Their 2030 targets are set to be even more ambitious.

Beyond this, Selfridges have set global standards for retailers, creating proactive campaigns to collect money for clean water such as Project Ocean, and their Green Warriors programme where staff clean beaches and retrieve plastic. When I met with Letizia Bini from their Retail Design Team, the initiatives under their roof were endless, from recycling fixtures via an online database they’ve created to reducing materials and using recycled materials in much of their latest store refits.

3. Create circular retail design

Circular design in a nutshell means creating a system that delivers what’s required with minimal waste and maximum use and re-use. So, with the demanding merry-go-round of retail spaces, how do we balance the hunger for ‘new’ with the integrity of closed loop design?

Virgin Holidays’ stores at Next are fully modular, interchangeable and flexible. Not only did we reduce the need for bespoke manufacture for every store with our design, it has also enabled local batch production of the kit reducing energy and labour. All modules can be switched out and changed around to give the stores endless possibilities and the ability to re-fit into new sites which has already paid off.

Lush’s Liverpool store opening earlier this year achieved SKA gold. This rating evaluates everything from the materials to production processes to ventilation and long-term energy usage in the running of the space. There was a huge focus on using sustainable materials such as reclaimed FSC certified timbers, brick, and cradle to cradle silver tiles to keep their carbon footprint to a minimum. They are also pioneering zero plastic and packaging in their latest ‘naked’ store concept which they are now implementing globally.

In Conclusion

There is no simple rulebook for becoming more sustainable but the key is to try, and this is what the world's most valued brands are doing.

Entering the all-important 2020’s, climate action will be at it’s apex. We will see greater accountability for the impact of the spaces we're creating and our customers will be voting with their loyalty.

From Selfridges Buying Better, Inspiring Change manifesto:

“Not having all the answers isn’t a reason not to try”

Retail brands will not only need do less harm but create positive initiatives to make changes, helping the planet and our future consumers.

Are you going to join the revolution?