"While brands seem to understand the benefits that sustainability can bring, there appears to be a widespread misunderstanding about how to deliver and measure this across the business."
Dan Williams, founder and MD at Group
David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II has been heralded as a significant turning point in consumer attitudes towards single use plastics and the environment. While there has been a gradual shift in attitudes towards sustainability over the past decade or so, Attenborough’s shocking series made many sit up, take notice and make changes to our personal approach to plastic use. According to research by Waitrose, 88% of viewers have since changed their behaviour as a result; using refillable cups and choosing unpacked fruit and veg at the supermarket, amongst other environmentally conscious decisions.
Not only can sustainability initiatives make your brand more favourable with consumers, but it can also drive improvements for your bottom line. Becoming more energy efficient, making significant savings to utility costs, and reducing the input of raw materials needed for packaging and display can result in an increase in sales at the same time.
At 100% Group, we recently commissioned research of over 200 retail professionals with responsibility for the creation, manufacture, management or implementation of branded retail displays. When asked about the likely impact of sustainability programmes on retail displays, respondents said it could increase sales by an average of 23%, profits by 22% and footfall by 20%. Contrastingly, our respondents estimated that profits could decrease by an average of 16% if a sustainability programme is not implemented, suggesting that brands that don’t take a proactive approach to introduce sustainability measures are likely to be perceived less favourably by consumers.
Bensons for Beds’ recent success with its recycling strategy is just one example of the incredible impact sustainability initiatives can have on the environment and sales simultaneously. Since it launched its scheme in August last year, the bedding retailer has recycled nearly 40,000 beds, saving the equivalent of 1,800 tonnes of mattresses from landfills. It has also recorded a 96% sales increase for its Silentnight Choices range, made from 100% recyclable plastic bottles, saving over 48.7 million plastic bottles from entering oceans and landfills since the range launched in 2018.
However, while brands seem to understand the benefits that sustainability can bring, there appears to be a widespread misunderstanding about how to deliver and measure this across the business. Our research highlighted that many brands are missing a ‘full circle’ sustainability policy; focusing on the sourcing and input of raw materials but neglecting a focus on end-of-life. Yet part of this gap could be due to a lack of awareness around the end of life services that exist. Of the 18% that said they didn’t have a recycling policy for their end of life retail displays, 41% said they were unaware of services that would be able to recycle them. Of the 36% of respondents that said they’re not currently investigating recycling services for their retail displays, a third also said they were unaware of any services that could do so.
For the brands that do operate sustainability initiatives however, it appears that many aren’t taking a broad enough view when measuring the impact. Of the 69% of respondents that claimed to have an environmental sustainability policy, 57% said that they managed these using recycling targets, suggesting a narrow view of the company-wide impact sustainability can have. Other measures that respondents said they used to measure impact included reduction targets for material, transport and energy consumption, re-use targets, and partner and supplier sustainability targets. While these are all promising measures to have implemented, by only focusing on one or two of these areas, it’s likely that brands still aren’t taking a broad enough view of sustainability across the organisation, and other areas such as reuse, redeploy and remanufacture aren’t being taken into account. To deliver a truly comprehensive and full circle policy, all areas and processes of the business need to be properly addressed and monitored. Not only will this feed into corporate social responsibility, but in turn it is also likely to make your brand more favourable amongst consumers; our research found that 60% are more likely to buy products from a brand with a demonstrable sustainability policy.
Overall, however, it’s promising to see that a greater focus is being placed on sustainability by retailers and brands across the board. As sustainability becomes more important to consumers, it’s only going to become more crucial that comprehensive initiatives are put in place, for the sake of survival in the ever-challenging retail landscape, and crucially, for our environment. Our research highlighted a positive growing trend in this direction. 92% of those surveyed said that it will be important for brands to demonstrate their sustainability efforts moving forward, and while only 22% admitted to already having measures in place, a further 42% said that they were planning to introduce them within the next year. 2020 is set to be an exciting time for innovative new sustainability initiatives to make their way onto the market, and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what else emerges.