In-store sustainability

What positive sustainability steps can retailers take in-store?

The Coronavirus pandemic has firmly put the focus on sustainability and the environment. Waters ran clear through the Venice canals, levels of pollution in New York fell by 50% and the world as a whole saw the largest drop in global emissions ever recorded.

Evidence shows that the pandemic has accelerated its importance to many consumers with 65 percent of German and UK consumers now saying they will buy more high-quality items that last longer. This McKinsey survey also confirmed that consumer sentiment during the pandemic highlighted a growing trend amongst Europeans to make purchases influenced by brand sustainability and ethics.

For many retailers, increasing sustainability in-store isn’t a simple fix. If you are running a global business, you will be pulled by many different sustainability agendas. What works for one store in one region might not work for stores in others. Similarly, customer sentiment will change from country to country.

It is no mean feat, but every retailer has the power to make some small changes that can create noticeable differences to its in-store impact.


In-store refill stations

Many supermarkets have been offering small-scale recycling opportunities for a while including clothes, glass and household batteries. But there has been a conscious shift by many retailers to go beyond offering traditional recycling opportunities. Refill stations offer retailers the chance to appeal to the new sustainability-conscious cohort of customer, encouraging re-use rather than recycle.

In the UK, the award-winning campaign Refillhas been instrumental in creating and connecting a network of retailers and consumers to offer venues to refill on products like shampoo, cereals, tap water, coffee and cleaning products. With over 30,000 refill stations globally, it is a small shift but one that can have a huge impact on in-store carbon footprint. To date, the campaign has stopped over 100 million plastic bottles from heading to landfill.

This approach is being tested on a larger scale by Unilever, in its largest European refill trial. As Unilever’s Chief R&D Officer Richard Slater points out: “To tackle the root causes of plastic waste, we need to think differently about packaging. We need bold innovations that challenge existing designs, materials and business models. Our priority is to fundamentally rethink our approach and pave the way for new solutions such as reusable and refillable formats.”

And luxury fashion brands are also getting in on the action such as The Restory, an on-demand service offering modern aftercare for luxury fashion, where shoes, bags and leather goods, can be submitted for repair, restore or even reimagined.


Re-think your packaging

Legislation to reduce plastic bag use across Europe has been in place since 2015 and has subtly changed consumer in-store experience where bringing your own bag is now the norm. It has also sparked a growing trend for eco packaging that shows no signs of slowing down. In January 2021, the EU introduced a plastic waste tax and in July 2021, its ban on single-use plastic items comes into force.

The shift towards re-thinking packaging is one that is gathering speed both through intention and by accident. Switching to cardboard packaging has been a sustainable choice for many businesses looking to change how they package in-store products but the global pandemic has also impacted the availability of cardboard.

Retailers are having to think hard and fast about alternative options, even forcing some to consider the question, “Do we even need packaging anymore?” This has obvious implications for branding. How can you persuade customers to pay more for a brand when there is no brand label packaging to show?

Perhaps this focus will force more diversification in branding trends, pushing sustainable packaging and alternatives to the surface much more rapidly than expected. Realistically, we will never see a packaging free retail space but as consumers move more towards sustainable brands, taking a look at how you can diversify your packaging options may well be the persuasion they need to buy from you. Plus, it may well reduce the knock-on environmental impact of your store.


Encourage re-use and recycling

Both retailers’ sustainable scale up efforts and the ability to offer recycling and re-use opportunities in-store will help overcome a major challenge - diverting waste away from landfill.

The challenge for retailers is which recycling and re-use opportunities they provide for customers. For some larger retailers, offering a variety of recycling opportunities makes sense. People come to shop for a variety of items, so the recycling offered should reflect that.

But more specialised retailers are still getting in on the act. Big brands like the Body Shop, H&M and Primark are all offering in-store drop off stations to recycle old clothes and packaging.

For smaller retailers, it can pose a challenge to run a recycling scheme as there are costs involved and they have less space available in store. One of the ways to get around  this is collaboration with local charities who will take and re-use unwanted items.

Whatever steps you take towards increasing in-store sustainability, you will be aligning yourselves with a growing consumer trend that is at the heart of purchasing decisions.


If you want to work with a partner who is keen to make your life easier, source the best value products and can streamline your stock management to make it more efficient and eco-friendly, speak to Worldpack on +31 (0) 88 494 20 80 or email us at

David Mines
Business Development Director

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