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Hot topic. Let’s talk Sustainability

First off, let’s outline what sustainability means for those who are curious!

‘Sustainability is the process of people maintaining change in a balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations. For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economic and social. Sub-domains of sustainable development have been considered also: cultural, technological and political. While sustainable development may be the organizing principle for sustainability for some, for others, the two terms are paradoxical (i.e. development is inherently unsustainable). Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Brundtland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) introduced the term of sustainable development.’



How retailers can jump into sustainability

Unfortunately, there isn’t a guide on how professionals that are new to sustainability in retail should get started. What impairs the problem in retail is that we all tend to see sustainability through roles that span business functions such as human resources, legal and public relations. This means that they tend to not have a perspective over a direct functioning area, such as store, transportation or operations.

Based on those familiar working and interacting around retailers who claim to be sustainable professionals – there is always mention on six key roles that are carried out to become successful in this field. Experienced professionals spend most of their time on orchestrating development strategies, internal efforts and engaging executives; newcomers should follow their example…

  • Consider sustainability at a global scale

A key part to study. Start off by considering the global context underlying your role. This could possibly include resource depletion or other risks for the commodities that your company depends on. Feasibly, this includes water, fisheries, forests or agriculture; climate risks such as heat waves, floods or wildfires; or the ethical treatment of people and animals. Focus on those that relate directly to your company’s success and relate that to your business to the broader industry landscape.

  • Map sustainability to the context of your business

Consider the most significant ways in which your business operates and impacts the environment. Start with the operational functions of retail; buildings (store and distribution centres), products, supply chains as well as stakeholder engagement.

Now the next stage would be to consider why your role was initially created – Why does your organization need to address the impacts it has on the environment? Maybe your company would like to improve its compliance with regulations, improve customer loyalty, manage its reputation or brand, save money, avert supply chain risks, grow avenue, reflect stakeholder values, keep up with competitors or just to do ‘the right thing.’

One of the most valuable aspects of corporate sustainability is that it can simultaneously address multiple business priorities. A project that tackles the above concerns, as well as reinforcing your company’s core values –whether that means innovating, providing great services, reducing costs – like us at Pivotal, or anything else – is the best place to start. Identify those areas that can improve all your company’s triple bottom line; Economic, social and environmental.

  • Meet and build trust with the key internal players

In any business environment, decisions come down to facts, people, priorities and influence. As you develop a strategy, identify the key influencers that can help you plan and execute this. To identify those key influences, an exercise called influence mapping is a frequently used tool. Influence mapping helps to discover and illustrate both the responsibilities and relationships of people in your organization – and even external influencers – to determine whom to approach and in what sequence.

Seek the answers to the questions:

  • Who are your supports?
  • Who are you non-supporters?
  • Who is neutral to your objectives?

Once you have identified the critical people, consider them as individuals. What kind of message and in what form best resonates with him or her? It might be a detailed analysis driven by facts, anecdotes from important stakeholders, easily digested summaries, a tone of urgency or a sense of opportunity. What gets them excited? How can you provide value so they will participate?

Network with those individuals to identify what they also value. If you’re hoping they can help you with your program, know how you can help them in their role. Consider who makes decisions, who influences whom, how strong their influence is and the path to getting a decision. Leverage a variety of channels, including meetings, presentations and day-to-day interactions, to forming a strong professional relationship. Remember the importance of the messenger; in some cases, others may be able to build or communicate a case more strongly than you can. Leverage your growing supporter base to tell success stories and promote ideas.

  • Develop a strategy that aligns with other parts of the business

Now that you know your company’s greatest environmental impacts, key internal players and its enthusiasm, you can form your very own strategy. Retail sustainability strategies typically take a 5-year horizon and include goals, internal and external engagement tactics and reporting mechanisms.

Based on your strategy, prioritize the stakeholders to engage and create a plan to approach them. In retail, achieving more sustainable stores will require the active participation of facilities and real estate managers. Integrating sustainability into supply chains will require merchant and sourcing team involvement.

  • Assemble a governance structure to execute

The right governance structures build buy-in and bring decision-makers to the table. A governance system includes three things

(1) Its what information is gathered, who gets access to it and how it is reported.

(2) Its how resources such as capital and time are allocated.

(3) Its who makes decisions and how they are enforced.

  • Incorporate new ideas and take advantage of organizational energy that emerges

Project execution is an ongoing effort that requires active management. Use your governance structure, as well as a variety of formal and informal mechanisms, to actively seek feedback and new ideas. Retailers have incorporated microsites on their intranets, employee blogs, sustainability forums or interest groups, and more to engage employees throughout the organization. Doing so will spur new ideas and continue to expand the excitement for sustainability programs.

Find ways to keep the momentum going from successful projects. Be open and communicative throughout your efforts so that others find you and join in the company’s journey. The more people that are aware and involved in your program, the more expertise, resources, time, energy and buy-in you will enjoy.

More than anything else, recognize the creative opportunity your job requires; sustainability is a field of innovation. Think to the future and identify the trends that affect or will affect the industry. Tackling uncharted territory for your company is no simple task – but stay energized and never stop learning.


Sustainable Retail Packaging – Design Solutions

For some time, ‘recycle, reuse, reduce’ has been the central mantra of the sustainable development movement. In other words, people should try to recycle the component parts of a product after it has reached the end of its life, reduce the amount of materials used and extend the products life by reusing the same. The only way to get a solution for making retail packaging more sustainable is by rethinking. Rethinking means designers of packaging products should always be on the lookout for alternative, more sustainable designs and materials. The major areas to address during the design are:

Maximising energy and water efficiency

A designer needs to aim to reduce the amount of energy and water utilised during the manufacturing process. This should be done without making it costly or compromising the performance of the end product. Such a move can only be effective by changing the production process or the materials used. A good example of a company that has a solution to packaging is Coca-Cola. It has designed a bottle made using renewable biomaterials in a bid to replace their conventional PET (polythene terephthalate) packaging.

  • Minimising materials

Source reduction goes hand in hand with sustainability. It means reducing the amount of materials used in the production process by making use of optimal combination of tertiary, secondary and/or primary materials. If possible, the total amount of packaging used with a product should be reduced. One of the major roles of packaging is to ensure goods are protected from spoilage and damage. The World Packaging Organisation says that not using packaging would result with more waste from damaged goods than any items which could be saved through avoiding the use of packaging. The goal, according to the organisation, should be the ‘right strength’ and ‘right size’ packaging than none at all.

  • Recycled materials use

The industry’s footprint can be reduced by the greater the volume of recycled materials that can be designed into the manufacture of packaging. Recycled, materials produce less greenhouse emissions because they use less energy than virgin materials.

  • Renewable materials use

Designers should strive to maximise the use of renewable sources’ materials such as bio polymers, card and paper in the manufacture of retail packaging products. Dell, the computer giant, have been determining the viability of packaging materials based on mushroom, wheat straw and bamboo derived material. Reducing energy use, a major contribution toward getting a more sustainable industry and saving precious natural resources can only be done by finding ways to use renewable materials.

  • Reduction of risks associated with materials

A risk to eco systems and humans is posed by packaging containing potentially hazardous and toxic materials. The design process should have the capability of identifying such materials and removing them from the manufacturing process where possible. Appropriate control systems have to be put into place where removal of such materials is not possible. However, in the majority of cases, the cost related to designing such materials and replacing the same with others cannot be compared against possible savings from avoiding hazardous or toxic costs for disposals further down the line.

  • Materials from reasonable suppliers

Companies who have a commitment to environmental sustainability and a documented environment management system should be used as sources for purchasing packaging materials. Certification schemes make the task easier for businesses looking for the right supplier.

  • Designing for transport

Designers should strive to maximise the use of renewable sources’ materials such as bio polymers, card and paper in the manufacture of retail packaging products. Dell, the computer giant, have been determining the viability of packaging materials based on mushroom, wheat straw and bamboo derived material. Reducing energy use, a major contribution toward getting a more sustainable industry and saving precious natural resources can only be done by finding ways to use renewable materials.

  • Design for reuse

In cases where it is appropriate, packaging designed to be reused can make significant saving’s in raw material and energy usage. However, complete reuse of a packaging product is extremely rare in today’s market. Once a staple of UK milk retailing, the reusable milk bottle, now forms only a small portion of British milk sales. Therefore, recovery for recycling provides much more promising chances for sustainable packaging designers.

  • Designing for recovery

Companies using recyclable materials when they are designing their packaging and offer consumers with appropriate recycling information are leaders in making a positive contribution towards the maximisation of recycling and recovery rates. Yet, a number of the most common packaging items like potato crisps bags, toothpaste tubes and take-away pizza, cannot be recycled. People in the packaging industry know that packaging from layers of varying materials is almost impossible to recycle. Additionally, a recyclable product like packaging pizza box is difficult to reuse once it has been used.

  • Consumer accessibility designing

Several requirements should be considered when designing packaging to meet consumer accessibility expectations. Consumers demand packaging forms that are easy to open, safe and provide clear information and labelling. Furthermore, they expect to be offered this without the cost of packaging having a substantial impact to the cost of the product. A design with this kind of accessibility is very consumer and environmentally friendly.


Introducing the materials set to make it big in Retail Design

A key element of the retail design process involves the selection of materials. As a retail design agency, considerations aren’t just limited to aesthetics though. Cost, performance, and increasingly, sustainability are all important factors when choosing materials for retail environments. With more and more brands seeking to show off their environmentally friendly credentials, we thought we would explore some of the more interesting sustainable materials set to make their way into mainstream retail design firms.


Materials company ‘Ananas Anam’ has devised a way to use pineapple waste to create a leather alternative that is eco-friendly and cruelty-free. Piñatex uses fibres extracted from pineapple leaves that are then separated and felted together into breathable and flexible fabric. Like real leather, its potential applications are wide-reaching, but it may be especially useful for seating, given that its porous structure allows it to effectively adjust to your body’s temperature. Promising extra comfort for tired shoppers and plenty of sustainable credentials, this leather alternative is set to be a hot pick for retail designers within global retail design firms.


New Zealand-born designer Sophie Rowley has developed an imaginative way to offset the environmental impact of the fashion industry by repurposing discarded denim into pieces of furniture. Inspired by the composition of sedimentary rocks, and bearing a striking resemblance to marble, her pieces layer textile offcuts, which are then bonded together using resin before being carved into the desired shape.

Thanks to the handmade production process, each piece is unique. But her technique isn’t just limited to striking furniture – the lightweight yet durable qualities of the resulting material make it an interesting option for the panelling of walls and other surfaces.


Portuguese studio ‘Digitalab’ have pioneered an innovative method of turning cork into a thin thread that can be used to make all sorts of things from furniture to lighting. Called CO-RK, the thread offers a sustainable alternative to materials like plastic. The fibres can be turned into complex forms or mesh-like structures, flexible enough to be woven but strong enough to support significant weight, all while retaining the original physical properties of cork, such as acoustic and thermal insulation and anti-vibration.


New bio-based and biodegradable materials extracted from sunflower waste is the result of a collaboration between designer Thomas Vailly, and scientists from the Ecole Nationale Superieure. The scale of sunflower production – and the large amounts of waste associated with it – make it a prime target for the ecologically minded. It seems to have been a fruitful partnership, with the lab developing materials that can be used as natural adhesives, varnishes, hardboard, and even a natural alternative to polystyrene.

While bioplastics offer their own unique set of characteristics when compared to their synthetic counterparts, they promise to open up a whole new world of possibilities in all areas of design, and manufactures, such as packaging, throw-away tableware, furniture and panelling.


In an effort to demonstrate the potential of cardboard as an environmentally friendly building material, Indian architecture studio Nudes have built an entire cafe in Mumbai using just cardboard. Almost everything, apart from its structural core, and appliances have been constructed out of cardboard. This means its walls, chairs, tables and even the lampshades.

With curved shapes being formed using multiple layers of cardboard cut to produce the desired shape, it seems like there is little by way of shape or function that they have been unable to produce. Not only is cardboard recyclable and biodegradable, it has the added bonus of acting as sound insulation – perfect for making a typically noisy cafe environment a little quieter. A breakthrough for retail design firms.


Developing stands in a sustainable way 

The exhibition industry is still far from perfect when it comes to being environmentally friendly and maintaining sustainability, but by being more conscious of the issue we can all work together to make sure we strive to be better. 

To make stands and exhibitions more sustainable, is to replace traditional build stands with more of a modular approach. The method would include;

  • Using no more foamex.
  • Making sure that the materials (say 95%) is recyclable. To make sure that as little as possible, if any – goes to landfill. 
  • Use reusable materials.
  • Use LED lighting rather than standard lightbulbs, as LED lighting are more energy efficient, cost effective and durable. 

One Off Show? Time to Hire

If you’re planning to attend a small number of events, such as an occasional trade or business expo, hiring an exhibition stand will not only save you a considerable amount on the purchasing cost, but it will also be reusable. It’s really easy to reskin and reconfigure rental Exhibition stands to reflect new messaging or brand reducing any unnecessary waste.


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  • Posted by Emma Thorpe