What do you consider to be the biggest change in sustainable retail in the last few years?
I think it’s attitude. We’ve witnessed increasing consumer and shopper demand for all businesses to be upfront and honest about their actions. Clearly retailers and brands feel this keenly being more in the public eye with assets you can touch and feel. If you’re parting with your money in a store you want to know what it’s being spent on. And it’s a good thing; it’s harder now to simply pay lip-service - you must be genuinely committed otherwise shoppers will vote with their wallet.
You only have to look at the Loop/Tesco collaboration: https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/zone/loop – okay it’s a 150-store trial so far, but even that would’ve been unimaginable in mass retail a few years ago.
How is Eden’s approach to sustainability different from other businesses?
I believe our approach is more wide-angled. Yes, we can talk about sustainable materials and processes that will benefit our customers but it’s also about where we live and work.
For example, we delayed construction at our European headquarters to allow House Martins to continue nesting. They’re on an amber endangered list, so we paused to let them continue raising their young before flying back to Africa for the winter. Plus, we recently created a bio-corridor and relaxation zones in local parks. On top of this the modern equipment we’ve invested in ensures our emissions are only 8-10% of the limits set by our local authorities and it includes the latest odour-eliminating technology for our paint line.
My leadership team and I are absolutely committed the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit – it comes from the top!
What do you think are the biggest challenges for suppliers?
Pressure to keep prices low will never go away! Our customers want to embrace sustainability, but we have to understand their commercial targets too.
Ultimately sustainable design will save money being based on reducing materials, processes, waste and energy, but it requires an investment in thinking and innovation time to get more out of less. The only way to do this is to be more creative, to think smarter.
We have to be clear and transparent about our supply chain too. Our customers’ stakeholders quite rightly demand to know how we source ethically and the miles involved – traceability is key.
Fortunately for us our core manufacturing is in Mainland Europe and the UK. When you consider each 20ft container you ship from China to any European port adds almost 3 tonnes of CO2 to your carbon footprint we can give retailers another reason to “buy local”!
What do you think are the biggest challenges for retailers and brands?
They have to tread a fine line of meeting shoppers’ ethical demands at the same time as providing value. It’s not always easy for them to react at the same pace as changing consumer perception. The need to move fast and keep ahead of events will only increase. We see this in the demand for stores and fixtures that can flex and pivot. Of course, COVID-19 has accelerated this, bringing severe operational challenges, but the momentum for adaptability has always been growing.
Another challenge is getting clarity around materials and processes. There is a huge range of sustainable solutions out there (some of them questionable!). Knowing what to choose can be a minefield. We’ve seen materials that at first glance look like a perfect “green” alternative only to find out that lead-times are just too long for retail programmes or they’re unobtainable in sufficient quantities for volume roll-out.
For a material to be a genuine alternative it doesn’t just have to pass the sustainability test it has to pass the procurement test too.
What would you recommend as best practice?
Always look at the big picture. If you just focus on the fixture itself, you’re missing all the things around it such as packaging, transport, operational and end-of-life implications. These are all potential areas for reducing energy, time and cost. And “Reduce” is always at the top of the sustainability pyramid.
Could you tell us more about Eden’s refurbish and re-use service?
Steel is a great material for recycling, but with long-term store fixtures it makes more sense to extend their life if you can (and of course, “Re-use” is second on the sustainability pyramid!). It’s a very simple process, during strip-outs we sort what can be economically refurbished and bring them back to our dedicated re-furb line. After refurbishment it goes into stock for call-off at a reduced price - as much as 30% less.
It started out with just one of our customers but we’re seeing more demand from others now to support their sustainability targets and save costs.
What significant changes do you think we’ll see in the next few years?
In terms of design I think the need for fixtures to do more than one thing and be easily adaptable to change will increase; smart solutions that are future-proof and last longer.
We should expect to see new models of supply and ownership driven by the move towards a circular economy. Consider how Ikea have trialled the leasing of office furniture and kitchens and buying back home furniture for refurbishment. It’s not inconceivable these ideas could be adopted for retail fixtures.
From the shopper I think there will be a greater expectation that retailers and brands must demonstrate their sustainable actions. It could become part of the store experience, where we’ll see a move towards retail fixtures and displays that communicate this in an authentic way to shoppers to increase transparency and gain loyalty.
Whatever is in store I remain positive. The move towards a more sustainable world can only be a good thing. The past months have served to remind us all how fast the unexpected can appear over the horizon. But with the right mindset and the will to adapt we can always face whatever the future brings and embrace the changes that come our way.
Click here for more information on Eden’s sustainable policies and our Corporate Social Responsibility