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Shopping for Green

Retailers can have a big impact on sustainability, but tweaking store operations and changing light bulbs is not enough


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Retailers occupy a unique place in the value chain, sitting squarely in the middle between manufacturers and consumers. As such, they are ideally positioned to affect — and be affected by — sustainability trends on both sides of the marketplace. Retailers are greatly influenced by shifting consumer preferences, but also have great power to shape those preferences through the products they offer and the marketing messages they deliver. Similarly, while retailers serve as conduits for the products that manufacturers want to sell, they can also exert considerable influence over what those products look like. If retailers make sustainability a top priority, consumers and manufacturers are likely to follow suit.

Companies in the retail industry also have a strong incentive to ramp up and improve their own sustainability efforts. Most retailers face intense competition and operate on razor thin margins, so they need to be as efficient as possible in everything they do. That includes using natural resources wisely and eliminating unnecessary waste. In recent years, retailers around the world have taken steps to become more sustainable through initiatives such as installing low-energy lighting. However, such initiatives only scratch the surface, and for many there are still significant improvement opportunities in other operational areas such as refrigeration, heating and cooling, vehicle fleets, etc. — anywhere that resources are used or waste is generated.

In fact, the biggest improvement opportunity for retailers may not even reside within the four walls of their own stores and operations, but within their global supply chains. In our experience, the resource footprint of a retailer’s supply network can be 100 – 200 times larger than the resource footprint of its own operations. That’s a huge opportunity just waiting to be tapped.

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