Today, we are only ever the touch of a button away from the latest and most important information. Over the last decade, the news has made us even more aware of the impact that humans have on the planet. Humans affect the physical environment in many ways, and our actions have triggered a range of potentially devastating consequences – climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, pollution and undrinkable water.
One result of this increased awareness is that issues such as climate change and excess waste production as well as unethical labour practices and lack of diversity matter far more to people than they did a few decades ago. Furthermore, the majority of consumers are now actively making the choice to favour business that are actively aware of their environmental and social responsibilities and are taking steps to fulfil them.
A 2017 study carried out by Cone Communications found that:
76% of consumers will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services if they discover that it supports an issue contrary to their personal beliefs.
78% of consumers want companies to address important social justice issues.
87% of consumers will purchase a product or service because the company selling it advocates for an issue that they personally care about.
While people feel that their own environmentally conscious decisions can make a big difference to the world, they also want the brands and businesses that they support to help them achieve this. A research study conducted by Futerra in 2019 found that a whopping 98% of people surveyed felt that brands have a responsibility to make positive change in the world. Here’s looking at you!
So, what can you do to make your small business more environmentally and socially conscious?
Switch to sustainable packaging
Most businesses need to use packaging in some way, whether it is to wrap goods that you sell in store, or to ship them to customers in your country or internationally. In the past, plastic was one of retailers preferred packaging materials owing to its durability, which makes it good at protecting products in transit. It is also very thin, which means it uses fewer resources and takes up less space for both storage and transport. Studies estimate that packaging accounts for 40% of plastic usage. Unfortunately, currently only 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled. Any that isn’t takes centuries to break down, but it never fully decomposes and instead wreaks havoc on our wildlife and ecosystems.
While no packaging or reusable packaging is ideal, if you need to use some, paper and cardboard are considered the most environmentally friendly due to the fact that the vast majority can be recycled. Some initiatives that you could try in your retail store include:
- Incentives for customers bringing their own reusable bags or packaging. This could be in the form of a discount or loyalty points.
- Use recycled materials in your own packaging wherever you can.
- Consider multipurpose packaging. For example, clothing retailer H&M have bought out a shopping bag that turns into a clothes hanger – yes really! You can also add extra value to the packaging by making the box you use reusable itself. British retailer of clothes for young girls, Monday’s Child, has created an environmentally-conscious box that doubles as a doll’s house!
It is also worth considering which suppliers you use and if they use recyclable packaging when they ship products to you. If you really want to ramp up your environmental awareness, you could see if there are alternative suppliers which practice more socially conscious practises without affecting your bottom line.
McDonald’s has pledged to ensure that all of its packaging will be 100% renewable and recycled by 2025 which is some serious commitment. And sustainable packaging won’t just lower your environmental impact and make your customers happy, it will also set your business apart from your competitors. Many retailers are using stickers and postcards enclosed with their packaging to explain their commitment to more sustainable practices. Make sure you also use your mailing list, website and social media channels to communicate what you are doing and why.
Make it easier for your customers to lower their environmental footprint
As we know, consumers want the support of brands in lowering their own personal environmental impact. As such, helping your customers to offset the effects of their own retail habits will not only make them more likely to shop with you, but it will also boost your own sustainability efforts. Exactly how you can do this will depend on the type of retailer you are and the products and/or services that you offer. For example:
If you are an electronics retailer, you could collaborate with a local recycling partner to encourage customers coming to your store to bring their old printer cartridges or mobile phones in, offering a purchasing initiative to do so. Retail giant Apple don’t only offer in-store recycling – it is also possible for customers to ship electronics to them for recycling for free. If your device still has value, you will be able to trade it in for credit towards your next purchase or receive a gift card for future use. Similarly, Staples has created a program that allows customers to earn $2 in rewards for every ink cartridge that they recycle in store or by mail when they spend at least $30 on ink or toner.
If you have a café or other food or beverage outlet that offers takeaway, you can show your commitment to a sustainable future by supporting and incentivising the use of reusable drinking vessels. Most single use coffee cups are non-recyclable, and estimates suggest it can take 50 years for them to fully break down when in landfill. When there is around 2.5 billion of them thrown away every year, that is a lot of unnecessary waste. Lots of independent and chain cafes are giving discounts and rewards to eco-conscious consumers who take their own reusable cup. In the UK, Pret A Manger offer customers a 50p discount off their drink of choice when it is supplied in a reusable cup. In addition to this, they are also committed to reducing food waste by donating all of their unsold food to charities at the end of the day through The Pret Foundation.
Support a non-profit organisation
Is there a cause that is close to the heart of your retail business or the employees who work for you? Research from the Cone Cause Evolution Study reveals that 85% of consumers have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a charity that they care about, with as many as 80% of people surveyed stating that they would switch to buying from a company that supports a charity provided the product or service was equal in quality and price. This doesn’t have to be a large non-profit organisation. In fact, local charities where your consumers can often see first-hand exactly how any donations are being spent are largely preferred to larger, well-known non-profits.
It’s important to remember that your charity efforts should ideally resonate with your target audience, so do your research before committing to a cause. This will help to get their attention, and gain their trust, loyalty and respect. Instead of just writing a check for your chosen charity each financial quarter, try and be creative with how you offer support.
Shoe retailer TOMS began life as a One for One company, giving away a pair of shoes to people in need for every pair purchased online or instore and to date, they have given away almost 100 million shoes. They are now diversifying their commitment to remaining socially conscious by dedicating one third of their net annual profits to a range of charitable organisations including mental health, equal opportunities and, from April 1st, 2020, a COVID-19 giving fund.
Meanwhile, Petco chose to donate pet toys to a number of animal shelters as part of their Tuesday Giving efforts and UK retailer John Lewis provide their staff with an opportunity to volunteer for up to six months, on full pay and benefits, through their flagship volunteering programme, The Golden Jubilee Trust. Since it was created in 2000, the trust has facilitated the donation of over 393,000 volunteer hours to charitable causes, representing a community value of over £25 million. As a small or medium-sized business, you could arrange for all staff to volunteer for a day at a local charity
Promote ethical labour practises
When you think about social responsibility, charity donations and volunteering tend to be some of the first things that you consider. However, social consciousness begins at home – or in this case – in your retail store. One of the first things that any retailer who wants to be socially conscious should so is to make sure that they are following ethical labour practises within their own business. This means:
- A work environment that is safe and healthy
- Providing employees with fair compensation for their work
- Hiring employees using a fair recruitment process that doesn’t discriminate based on age, sex, race, colour, sexual orientation, religion etc
- Enabling growth opportunities within your company
- Valuing your team and their work
- Treating all members of staff equally, with respect and dignity
Not only do ethical labour practices show that as an employer, you care about your staff and are committed to ensuring fair compensation for work, but ethical behaviours also create a happy workforce which in turn ensures maximum productivity from your team.
Embrace inclusion and diversity
Retailers can expect better performance when they offer products, services and experiences that reflect what shoppers want and value. Unsurprisingly, one of the key things that consumers want is to feel valued for who they are. As a result, inclusion and diversity are extremely important to the success of any business. A study by Accenture found that shoppers are not only turning away from brands that don’t share their values, they are also turning towards those which celebrate diversity and promote inclusion. Their research showed:
42% of ethnic minority shoppers would switch to a retailer committed to inclusion and diversity.
41% of LGBT shoppers would switch to a retailer committed to inclusion and diversity.
There are a range of ways in which you can ensure a more inclusive shopping experience for your customers. Your
Your products: Choose products that address the diverse needs of your customers. For example, if you are a retailer selling wedding gifts, be sure to stock those that are for Mr & Mr and Mrs & Mrs, as well as Mr & Mrs.
Inclusive advertising: If you are advertising your retail business, make sure that these reflect the diversity of consumers and are inclusive to all types of people. For example, you could produce certain aspects of flyers in Braille, produce window displays with mannequins in a variety of skin tones or sizes like Nike who now use plus-size mannequins too, or if your store is in an area with a large community speaking a different language, produce advertising in this language as well as your native tongue.
Your workforce: Don’t forget to teach your staff the important of inclusion and diversity by incorporating training into your recruitment and onboarding process. This will ensure that new team members will understand your expectations from the very beginning. Earlier this year, Sephora closed 400 stores across the United States for diversity and inclusion training.
Although perhaps not as much as a conventional office, many retailers still go through a considerable amount of paper every day. Some of the ways in which you may be using paper unconsciously include:
- Notebooks or purchase order pads for taking orders
- Inventory lists
A great cloud-based point of sale system like Hike can help retailers to reduce the amount of paper that they use and streamline their processes so that they aren’t reliant on paperwork which could be illegible or become lost or damaged.
There are a range of paperless functions that Hike can support your business with:
- Full or partial stock-takes with inventory entered directly onto your POS via your iPad/tablet.
- Store customer purchase history for both in-store and online purchases in one centralised system.
- Safe, secure cloud-based storage of customer details.
- Track loyalty points, gift card balances and more.
- Accounting integrations that enable you to track suppliers and customers in one system.
- Email invoices directly to customers complete with your company’s personal branding.
- Email communications directly to customers.
- Send receipts to customers via email, so that they don’t lose them, and you don’t need to use paper and ink to print them.
- Set up staff rotas online.
Reducing your paper usage will help keep your store uncluttered and simplify your processes so that you can continue to meet customer expectations and show that you are a forward-thinking, environmentally-conscious business.
Cloud-based POS systems like Hike can help your retail business to find ways to become more environmentally and socially conscious, whether it is by making important decisions about the resources you use or the donations you make, or helping you save paper. For your non-obligation 14 day trial, please get in touch!