Sustainability in retail is no longer optional. As consumers increasingly tune into the environmental and social impact of the products they buy, it has become one of the most important factors driving decision-making for retail companies. With 67% of consumers now identifying as environmentally-aware; shoppers want to know where products come from, what materials are being used, and whether the packaging can be recycled. Transparency, ethical labor practices and waste reduction are high-profile issues that highlight the importance of sustainability in retail.
However, achieving sustainability goals while maintaining efficiency and profitability throws up many hurdles that need to be overcome, from planning to production to inventory management. Increasingly, retailers are turning to technology to solve their most pressing sustainability challenges.
What is Sustainability in Retail?
There are many points in the retail cycle where aspiring sustainable retail companies can take action; from employing eco-friendly supply chain logistics to using sustainably sourced materials in manufacturing. Some retail companies base their entire business model around sustainable products like tentree, for instance. tentree have built a successful and sustainable business based on a simple brand promise: for every item sold, they plant ten trees.
Because there are so many different approaches to the complex field of sustainability in retail, retailers can find it helpful to home in on one aspect at a time. Whether it’s going digital to reduce printouts, using less water in manufacturing, or sourcing from local factories to cut down on their carbon footprints. Demonstrating to consumers that you are making an effort will pay dividends in the future and helps to get the ball rolling to take on more tricky sustainability initiatives.
The Challenges of Achieving Sustainability in Retail
Sustainability; once a ‘nice-to-have’, buzzword amongst retailers and brands, must now become an essential part of a retailer’s strategy. Meeting regulatory ESG standards and appeasing growing consumer awareness presents a very real challenge for retailers and brands to achieve a certain level of transparency and accountability. Growing economic tension, and increasing market challenges make sustainability in retail, a race whereby retailers must rush to the finish line or risk irrelevance.
Pressure to create sustainable fashion is coming from all directions. Conscious consumers have been on the rise for quite a while and demand a greater level of transparency and trust from brands and retailers than ever before. With 74% of consumers willing to pay premiums for sustainable packaging, retailers that are more sustainable threaten to draw customers away from companies that are just getting started on their sustainability journey.
Meanwhile, governing bodies and regulators are cracking down on wasteful and environmentally damaging business practices, resulting in increased financial pressures in the form of potential taxation and fines. The tide is turning, and business priorities are shifting dramatically in response – in the UK alone, retailers cut $10 billion worth of contracts with unethical suppliers in 2021.
At COP27, the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced that they are partnering to launch a new “Fashion Industry Target Consultation”, which will call on fashion stakeholders to define holistic and concrete targets for a net-positive industry.
Several brands, including H&M Group, Stella McCartney, Inditex and Kering among many others, also committed to purchasing over half a million tonnes of low-carbon, low-footprint alternative fibres for fashion textiles and paper packaging. Sustainability in retail is top of the agenda, and the direction of travel is clear – brands that commit to developing sustainable products will define the future of the industry.
Greenwashing; initiatives that pay lip service to sustainability in the interests of marketing but fail to make any real impact, is the dark side of sustainability in retail. Savvy consumers recognize greenwashing when they see it, and it also undermines and damages the authenticity of sustainable retailers who are making a genuine effort.
Brands and retailers need to avoid practices that might be perceived as greenwashing and invest in ways to track the real impact of sustainable products in order to convey accurate information to consumers. “Authenticity is important, but customers are increasingly expecting that [fashion brands’] efforts are backed up by data,”. Awareness of greenwashing is also feeding into a greater interest in circular economy initiatives that avoid the sustainability impacts of producing new items, in turn leading to a race to launch ‘pre-owned’ marketplaces.
How Retail Planning Protects and Promotes Sustainability
Brands and Retailers at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum (NEF), noted that sustainability in retail aligns well with strategic and operational goals, and forces a welcome “rethink of your inventory management, from waste and marked-down products to packaging and fulfillment,”.
Retailers wanting to harness the brand loyalty of environmentally conscious consumers must prove they are earnest and accountable in their sustainability efforts.
Retail planning addresses the emergent needs where fashion and eco-conscious decision-making intersect. Centric’s retail planning solution, Centric Planning™, creates accurate data reports to compare and contrast sales trends from previous seasons, and zero in on market trends and bestsellers.
Being able to utilize huge amounts of information and turn it into data-driven seasonal reports stops companies from overproducing. Retailers can then place more accurate production orders with their manufacturers instead of bloated orders made up of products that will not sell, may need to be heavily discounted to shift or end up in a landfill.
An added benefit is the ability to inspire sustainability in retail and cement brand credibility by procuring transparency reports that document the ethical and environmental impact companies make.
Centric Planning, for example, can accurately forecast goods, meaning it can properly align supply and demand. By only producing what is needed, companies effectively cut down on additional costs associated with oversupply.
Efficient product allocation and knowing when and where products need to go translates to less transfer of stock between distribution warehouses and retail stores. And being able to carry just the right assortment of products, variations and promotions at the right time ensures retailers clear shelves and reduce excess goods season after season.
This is vital for sustainable retailers: reducing stock transfers means a substantial reduction in harmful emissions and pollutants that impact public health and global warming.
In addition, a shortened planning cycle also means businesses can order last minute supplies closer to production, and only ever order what they need. A retail planning solution allows the creation of a number of scenarios that simulate delays and calculate the implied risk of each circumstance. This way businesses can easily adjust their inventory operations according to their risk tolerance.
What happens next depends on retailers; but equipping businesses with the tools they need to drive sustainable growth is the key to real transformative success.
Centric Planning™ is the ideal out-of-the-box solution to facilitate this long-needed industry restructuring. It provides a strong framework that will ensure companies stay aligned and committed to sustainability agendas.
Centric Planning is a next generation, best of breed planning solution designed specifically and solely for retailers. Built upon cloud-based architecture, Centric Planning delivers high performing, flexible data processing for fast, responsive analyses enabling teams to drive agility, and be more responsive to market changes, to deliver a customer-centric experience across stores and online.
The solution’s advanced analytical and AI capabilities supports accurate forecasting from end-to-end of the planning cycle, aiding merchandising teams to better understand product and assortment performance, and to quickly and effectively develop plans to deliver the right products to the right channel at the right time.