Green Retail Guide: Transitioning To A Zero Waste Company

How retailers can transition to a more ecologically friendly business model, one based on “Green Retail”, that produces zero waste.

By Tracy Renning

Going ‘green’ and transitioning to a zero-waste operational strategy is so much more than just a passing fad. Consumers realize the impact their choices have on the environment and local communities. Now, they’re looking to retailers to provide sustainable options and focus on sustainability themselves.

Retail businesses that implement greener, more sustainable practices are better equipped to meet the changing needs of modern customers. They can also improve their own efficiency and save significant sums of money in the process. A recent survey by the World Green Building Council found that 77% of organizations are looking to reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions in the face of the climate crisis.

Many businesses and their owners think that the costs and effort involved in going green won’t produce equivalent returns. Yet this sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth. Every environmentally friendly policy a retailer adopts, every step towards green retail, makes a difference when it comes to planetary health, customer satisfaction, and their own bottom lines.

green retail

The Journey Towards Green Retail: Creating a Transitional Plan

Your first step as a retailer who’s decided to go green is to develop a plan of action. Contact your local utility provider and request an audit of your energy usage. Most suppliers provide these audits for free, and many will suggest ways to reduce your usage and associated costs. You can approach a third-party environmental auditing service to highlight areas of your business that could do with some sustainable upgrades.

From there, draw up a plan of action based on those recommendations. Assess each area of your business’s operations and determine why and how you should change them to make them more sustainable.

Tips for Reducing Your Waste

1. Reusing and Recycling

There are many ways that green retail businesses can reduce their waste, and even transition to a zero-waste operational style. Your business can recycle paper, ink cartridges, aluminum, and other recyclable materials.

Packaging materials like cardboard boxes and bubble wrap are reusable. If printing documents are essential, you can print on both sides of the paper, or you can transition to a modern paperless system. This involves using digital software to manage bills, invoices, orders, emails and faxes.

2. Reducing Kitchen and Restroom Waste

You can reduce the amount of waste produced by your staff by replacing disposable crockery and cutlery in your break room with permanent dishes and utensils. Switch to eco-friendly cleaning products for your sanitary needs and install hand dryers and low-flow toilets in your company bathrooms to save water.

3. Reducing Energy Consumption

Use rechargeable batteries for your green retail office supplies instead of traditional disposable options. Invest in energy-efficient computers, printers and appliances where possible, and recycle old electronic equipment. With the goal of green retail, it’s a good idea to maintain your equipment regularly and have it repaired where possible instead of replacing it when normal wear and tear occurs. If equipment has reached the end of its life, ensure that you recycle it properly, especially if it’s electronic waste.

Make Your Staff Aware

Creating a culture of zero waste starts with education, and your team members should be the backbone of your greening strategy. Call a meeting and discuss your new practices with them so that your staff members are all on the same page. Explain why you’re taking action and how it can benefit the business as a whole. Ask for sustainable suggestions, and offer incentives for employees that submit innovative ideas.

You should also encourage your staff to take part in your new eco-friendly protocols. Instate policies to turn off electronic equipment like printers, ceiling fans, air conditioners and thermostats when they are not in use, and to set PCs to sleep mode during break times. In time, this will become a habit and any new employees will learn from the longer-standing workforce too.

Move Away from Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are one of the most pressing environmental issues facing the retail sector today. Retailers have two options: to switch to biodegradable paper or bioplastic bags, or to provide their customers with low-cost reusable bags instead. Some green retail companies may forgo bags altogether or can ask customers to bring their own baskets, bags, or carriers.

Another viable option is to strive towards going completely paperless and make bags and paper receipts optional at your store. Ask your customers if they require a bag before providing one and give them the option to have their receipt emailed to them. By emailing receipts, you’ll not only save money, you’ll also capture customers’ email addresses for future email marketing campaigns.

If you use any packaging materials to protect purchases or keep them fresh, ensure that whatever you opt for is eco-friendly. Swapping bubble wrap for recycled cardboard mesh is a great way to cut down on plastic.

Use Retail Task Management Software

RTMS solutions can help your business transition to paperless operations while boosting its productivity and efficiency at the same time. An RTMS allows you to digitize processes across all units of your business effortlessly. This allows you to centralize retail store communication and operation from HQ, and provide targeted corrective feedback.

Using an RTMS solution will reduce your business’s need to generate and handle paperwork while empowering teams and employees. You can virtually assign tasks, provide sign-offs and approval requests for in-store tasks, and increase accountability by allowing users to submit digital confirmations and visual proof.

Stock Sustainable Products

Do the products your business stocks contain plastic, petroleum byproducts, unsustainably harvested palm oil, or other environmentally harmful components and ingredients? If so, it’s time to reassess your supply chain and product range.

You can become a greener business by stocking sustainably made, fair trade goods that are locally made to reduce the environmental costs of manufacturing and transportation. You may also wish to consider redesigning your current products with recycled or biodegradable materials, as opposed to virgin materials that can remain in the environment for centuries after use.

Rethink Your Displays

Not only can in-store displays cost a huge amount of money, they also create a vast amount of waste. Generally, in-store displays are not in place for longer than a season and are disposed of once they’re no longer in use. To combat this you can use recycled or refurbished materials in your displays. Whether you buy vintage or second hand or opt for refurbished or recycled design and decor elements, avoiding buying brand new items drastically reduces your waste.

Sustainability should be a key factor in your displays. Do whatever you can to reduce, reuse, and recycle and stop buying anything new.

Stop Throwing Away Stock

The amount of food and clothing that ends up in landfills has reached a crisis point. Unsold stock and samples should never end up in the bin. If you have stock that hasn’t sold you can either donate it to a shelter or the less fortunate or find a way to creatively upcycle it. There are some companies that buy up old stock and samples and repurpose them, but if you cannot sell your unused products rather ensure they go to a good cause instead.

Food can be donated to shelters, fabric to community theaters, and you may find that other items are suitable for arts and crafts centers. Sometimes a little creative thinking is required to determine how you can avoid unwanted stock from ending up in a landfill, but considering the current waste crisis, it’s necessary.

Make Your Green Retail Strategies Public

Your customers will undoubtedly want to know about what you’re doing to make your operational strategies more sustainable. Incorporate your green transition into your marketing approach and announce your green initiatives to your customers, vendors and leads.

Make sure that they’re aware that your business commits to reducing its carbon footprint and making socially and environmentally responsible choices. It’s one thing to say as much, but to put it into practice is where it really counts. Customers that actively see that you’re implementing zero waste policies are likely to be supportive of your endeavors.

Recent studies show that customers are actively seeking out environmentally friendly products and are happy to pay higher prices for them. This buyer behavior is not just a recent trend, it’s been on the rise since 2014. By publicizing your green strategies you can capitalize on this and build trust in your brand. However, you do need to visibly make an effort and abide by your policies, or it will backfire.

Greening Your Bottom Line

It’s every retail business’s responsibility to adopt greener practices. Your business can do its part for the environment by creating a plan of action that addresses its energy and paper consumption, office waste, plastic production, and on-site water usage.

You can also transition to intuitive paperless RTMS systems to improve your company’s operational efficiency, increase its cost savings, and reduce its waste all at the same time. Your conscious consumers and the planet will thank you for your efforts.