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Sustainability equals retailer savings says Retail Design Expo panel

Consumers are willing to pay more for sustainability - but it doesn’t have to cost retailers more, say experts.

“We haven’t got a choice over whether to make sustainability important in the store environment,” said Pete Dawes, managing director of 4G Design, speaking at Retail Design Expo 2016. “And, if you design things sustainably, 99 times out of 100 it will cost less.”

Dawes, part of a panel of experts discussing the importance of sustainability for future retail, acknowledged that consumers are actively seeking out brands and retailers with an eco-ethical stance. In fact, market expert Nielsen recently found that, worldwide, 66 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for brands that show commitment to sustainability.

“We are firm believers that sustainability shouldn’t cost more and should be looked at as a core business component,” said Martin Gettings, group sustainability manager at the Canary Wharf Group. “It shouldn’t be a bit of green bling that is put on at the end of the project because that is when it costs more, becomes a problem and gives the whole agenda a bad name.”

Gettings detailed a major LED lighting replacement project recently carried out in all of Canary Wharf Group’s shopping centres and car parks. The results have included savings of nearly 400K a year from the group’s energy bill, while putting sustainability on the company board’s agenda.

While retailers might see sustainability as both an important part of their corporate social responsibility and a brand marketing opportunity, up until recently that has applied mostly to merchandise and not shopfittings.

“Retailers are saying that they want to select their suppliers by their sustainability credentials,” said Alan Pegram, president of the Shop and Display Equipment Association (SDEA). “In response to a need for accreditation we are working on something that will provide the evaluation and assessment tools, as well as give accreditation.”

Gettings predicted a future where the shopping public will become even more informed than some current sustainability experts, and become prepared to vote with their feet. “It is exciting but it will be scary if we don’t get ready for it,” said Gettings. “Innovation [in this field] is something that we need to embrace, understand and engage with.”

When faced with the wellness and eco orientated, hyper-informed shopper of the future, a retailer’s strategy should be obvious. Pete Dawes made the cost case for sustainability clear: “For every carbon measure there is a pound associated with it: you save one, you save the other.” And, Pegram put it more bluntly: “Eventually if retailers don’t take this seriously, they will see their customers move on to more altruistic ones “