Having tracked greener retailing practices throughout the year, you may have been expecting me to offer my predictions for the 12 months ahead like so many others have done.
I will spare you another future gazing piece.
Who has time to read all of them anyway?
You probably think the same thing about this article, where I’m offering my summary of the greener retailing stories that most captured my imagination in 2021. But let’s plough on regardless.
Every day I’m hearing about new initiatives – be it product or packaging recycling, more circular business models, greener energy usage, electrification of delivery fleets or radical changes to business financing – showing retailers are accelerating their green plans. A real environmental awakening has taken place, and it’s set the industry on a new path.
With significant schemes launched, the influence of COP26, and a new focus on the environment apparent, I think 2021 will be viewed as a pivotal year in terms of retail and sustainability. For that reason, I think it’s worth documenting – so, here goes.
2021’s five green stories of note – editor’s picks
The UK’s largest retailer making it easier for people to recycle difficult-to-recycle plastics that typically end up in landfill or for incineration is a big deal.
It’s not just the launch of the service itself, but it’s the way it underlines what Sainsbury’s, Co-op Food and others are doing in that space to try and cut down on waste.
Recycling has its detractors and a general safely-managed reduction in packaging is probably better for the environment than relying on material recycling per se, but this all points us in a positive direction for waste management in 2022 and beyond.
I like this one because it is a nice story of a predominantly physical retailer joining forces with a digital retailer to support the green agenda.
Electricals waste is a big problem, particularly in richer countries like the UK, so this accessible facility for recycling old devices can help encourage people to avoid throwing away due to the incentives involved.
This one is good because it is so well thought out, and has become a key component of Lush’s overall proposition.
It’s only one part of the cosmetics retailer’s sustainability strategy, but it’s a impactful one. By rewarding customers for bringing back their used containers and having a dedicated Lush-operated recycling facility for the material that brings it back into company use again, this retailer is getting to grips with the circular thinking the wider industry says it wants to adopt.
This one stands out because the first step towards becoming greener for retailers and other companies in consumer-facing industries is transparency.
Retailers need to work out what their carbon footprint is, measure it, and get it all out in the open, before they can even contemplate making improvements. Benugo does this in a neat way that helps consumers start thinking about their consumption patterns at the same time.
Iceland’s managing director, Richard Walker, is also good at this – publicising the frozen food retailer’s plastic footprint and regularly telling us the steps the business is taking to address the problems inherent across the world of commerce.
This is in my top five because it is a story for our times. It covers the pandemic which has impacted all of our lives over nearly two years now, but also highlights the unintended consequences that come with having to react quickly in a crisis.
Discarded masks can be seen all over the streets and country lanes of the UK, but the Wilko’s initiative has helped divert thousands of them for recycling.
Hopefully these five examples offer a bit of inspiration and hope about retail’s relationship with the planet as we jump into a new year. I’ve enjoyed covering this sector, and I’m generally encouraged about the direction of travel.
Thank you for reading Green Retail World’s updates in 2021, and a special thank you to our launch/content partners Adyen and Manhattan for the support.
More in-depth news and interviews are on the horizon in 2022 – as are some new GRW partnerships that will be announced in due course.
Merry Christmas, season’s greetings, and a happy new year to all our readers.
Ben Sillitoe, editor, Green Retail World (@bsillitoe)
[Image credits: Green Retail World, Tesco, Lush, Reworked]