Become sustainable, or die: Retail brands risk all by ignoring conscious consumers

Paul Elsibai

ABA Labels founder Paul Elsibai. Source: supplied.

Sustainable businesses have become big news, and they’re impossible to ignore — especially in the world of fashion. Eco-conscious brands such as Stella McCartney, Patagonia and Reformation have proven that a strong stance on sustainability doesn’t have to damage your brand’s ‘cool’ factor. 

Despite this, there are many retail brands — and consumers, for that matter — who believe that in order to buy sustainably, they need to look towards the luxury end of the market. While it’s true high-end brands have more wriggle room when it comes to expensive materials and production lines, it’s also completely possible for more reasonably priced retailers to get in on the act too. 

In fact, bolstering your business’ sustainability credentials isn’t just the right thing to do, but is actually a vital step towards boosting your bottom line. As more and more consumers clamour for planet-friendly brands, it’s simply bad for retail businesses to ignore them for much longer, wherever you sit on the cost spectrum.

So, if you’re still clinging to the belief that you ‘don’t need to worry’ about sustainability, I beg to differ. The fate of your business might depend on it. 

Learn from others’ mistakes

The world of sustainable retail is complex, with lots of new and changing information coming out all the time. While we can’t blame ourselves for not being 100% perfect, there is one thing we should always try to get right, and that’s to fully appreciate the demand for sustainability being placed on us from consumers. It’s our responsibility to listen to this demand, take it seriously, and take action. 

The biggest mistake a business owner can make is to close their eyes and ears to the demand for sustainability, and it happens more often than you’d think. This ‘denial strategy’ can be the result of a range of different factors, including the perceived costs of being more sustainable or a lack of knowledge around what is involved.

Another mistake I see from some in the industry is not being well enough informed and making decisions that they perceive to be more sustainable, but might not actually be. An example might be choosing packaging: one option might look more ‘eco-friendly’, but actually requires more water or un-recyclable plastic to produce.

I have also seen some businesses ‘greenwashing’, which not only disappointing, but a terrible business move. Customers are better informed than ever before about the true cost of retail, so pulling the wool over their eyes can only work for so long. In the long run, greenwashing will only be detrimental to the business.

Shout it from the rooftops

Once you’ve made the decision to go green, it’s essential you continue to stay as informed as possible. It’s not a case of ‘one and done’; sustainability should be an ethos that you integrate deep into your business.

Investigate certifications that can help outline exactly what steps you’re taking to become a more sustainable business. Becoming a Certified B Corporation, for example, can be a great way to tell the world about your credentials.

Take some time to support other businesses that align with your own personal beliefs around sustainability — you never know when a supportive admiration might turn into a fruitful partnership. Find retailers and stockists that are creating innovative solutions to sustainable shopping. The Iconic’s ‘Considered’ edit is an example. 

Inform your customers too. Communicate your thoughtful choices and preferences and shout them from the rooftops. Not only will this help build brand love, it will also encourage customers to share their newfound passion for positive brands with those around them. 

Education is key here. In order to make sustainability work for your business, it’s essential to properly inform the customer that while sustainable items might cost ever-so-slightly more, they’re likely to last longer and therefore eventually cost far less. 

Then, on the other side of the coin, retailers should be informing customers about the true cost of unsustainable retail, and what moral and ethical minefields these brands walk through on a daily basis.

If you care about long term viability and success, it’s vital you begin to develop more sustainable business practices and products. It’s obvious the calls for eco-conscious brands are growing louder and are not just a passing fad; any business ignores them at their peril.

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