Environmental concerns are planning an increasingly important role in the minds of today’s shoppers. Brands that pursue a green agenda are profiting while those who ignore them are gaining a negative reputation. Mindful consumerism is becoming a driving factor for retail so here we explore the rise of the mindful consumer, and what it means for retail.
Something borrowed, something blue…
In Sweden, the ReTuna Återbruksgalleria mall is a shining example of innovation in this space as the world’s first recycling mall. Old items are given new life through repair and upcycling. Everything sold is recycled or reused, or has been organically or sustainably sourced. The business opened its doors in 2015, and in 2016 the mall made SEK 8.1m in sales for recycled products, demonstrating the value customers place on both the product and the process.
The mall is more than a straightforward marketplace, however. It also facilitates public learning. ReTuna organizes public events, workshops, lectures and more to promote sustainability and mindful consumerism.
Run by municipal company Eskilstuna Municipality, ReTuna Återbruksgalleria mall is part of the government’s recycling program, showing that low waste attracts customers, turns a profit, and even creates jobs, with the project generating over 50 new roles since initiation.
Change from below
In the UK, supermarket brand Iceland is driving toward a zero-plastic future as Head of Sustainable Packaging Richard Parker has promised to remove plastic packaging from its own-label products by 2023. Following them, Aldi UK has plans to ensure all packaging on its own-label products will be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2022.
In the Netherlands, Ekoplaza has opened the first supermarket isle featuring 700 items and no plastic. Instead, food is displayed in glass, metal and cardboard containers alongside compostable materials that look like plastic, but are actually a biofilm made from trees and plants that will break down within 12 weeks in a home composter.
According to Anne R. Kapuscinski, Professor of Sustainability Science at Dartmouth College, she said she hopes the Ekoplaza experiment shows that people will buy food if it’s not wrapped in plastic.
Change from above
That said, change will also need to come from beyond retailers if a full, fundamental behavior shift is going to come. Jessica Green, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at New York University, cautioned that “sustainable consumerism” has its limits, and said what is needed is government regulation. “Sure, it’s great to consume less plastic when you make decisions about what to consume at the supermarket,” she said. “But that’s not going to fix the problem.”
In England, the 5p plastic bag charge in retail stores has led to an 85% decrease in usage, for example.
So, if it is good for the environment, good PR for the retailer and giving customers what they want, why isn’t everybody agreeing to get rid of plastic and go waste-free? The answer is that it is extremely complicated and could have large impact on store operations and customer journey. For example, bottlenecks could be created if customers need to congregate around a particular area to gather their oats, cereals, nuts, etc.
Without the usual instructions afforded by packaging, store assistants will also need to be educated in the nutritional, safety and compliance of ingredients, as a greater proportion of their time is likely to be spent helping customers.
Finally, inviting customers to bring their own containers could feasibly reverse the decline of the weekly shop, as asking people to carry a range of containers with them daily just in case they intend to visit the shop on the way home could be a step too far for most.
Just look at how Sainsbury’s has had to abandon its £10m food waste project following only a 9% drop in food waste, under a fifth of its 50% target.
Innovative packaging solutions like FoldFlat can help, but the outcome of initiatives like this are certainly difficult to predict. Therefore, many retailers will allow their competitors to be the guinea pigs, and trial new initiatives first.
Those concerns aside, mindful consumerism will continue to burgeon as retailers make more money from their scrupulous customers, and as environmentally-friendly legislation continues to proliferate. The trend is filtering into other retail areas like sports, where independent London-based gym 1Rebel has become the first plastic-free gym.
There really are no signs of things slowing down quite yet, so if you would like to hear how we are aligning mindful customers with leading retailers, please get in touch.