credit photo: medialyte

credit photo: medialyte

We hear so much about consumers and businesses behaving responsibly and keeping things ‘green’, but are retailers doing enough in this area? I recently read the book Greentailing (affiliate link), by Neil Stern and Willard Ander, and they took a close look at what some retailers are doing to behave as a socially and environmentally conscious company.

Here is their definition of ‘Greentailing’:

“Greentailing is conscientious retailing built on environmentally profitable business practices which explicitly consider the impact of a retailer’s actions on the environment and community, customer perception and behavior, employees, suppliers, and ultimately shareholder returns.”

Here are a few suggestions/examples, cited in Greentailing and other sources, that retailers can be focusing on today to improve their ‘Green’ factor:

  1. Optimize energy efficiency in your stores - the U.S. LEED certification program has established guidelines and measurable standards for design, construction, and operation of your retail facilities. Companies like Target, Best Buy, and Office Depot have already started opening LEED certified stores.
  2. Packaging - eliminate any unnecessary packaging. Excessive packaging is wasteful and not very consumer friendly. Retailers can proactively buy merchandise that has no excess packaging or packaging that is made from recyclable products.
  3. Bagging - we have started to see the elimination of plastic bags in groceries and other retailers in major cities like San Francisco, Toronto, and others. In order to discourage consumers from choosing plastic bags rather than recyclable bags, Toronto has recently introduced the infamous ’5 cent bag‘ bylaw, forcing grocers to charge consumers 5 cents per bag if they still opt for plastic. While not everyone agrees with this approach of a ‘forced’ tax on their use of plastic bags, it is certainly one of many ways retailers can eliminate waste and use of products that are simply bad for the environment.
  4. Recycling - retailers can offer more products that are made out of recycled goods or even sell high quality used items. Buffalo Exchange has made a retail business out of buying/selling vintage high quality used clothing.
  5. Organic, Natural, Nontoxic - retailers can make an effort to buy environmentally preferable products. Retailers must pay attention to how products are being produced and are using the most natural, organic and nontoxic materials possible. Williams Sonoma has recently introduced a new line, ‘Pure & Green Collection’, using all natural products and recycled containers for a line of soaps, lotions, and cleaners.
  6. Supply Chain - retailers can do more to make sure suppliers themselves are producing, operating, and delivering products in an eco-friendly manner. Wal-Mart introduced a scorecard system that measures and evaluates their suppliers on all of these factors.
  7. Charity - Charity, philanthropy, and community services are all good for the environment. Giving something back to the local community with hands on services or charitable donations towards non-profit organizations that are improving the environment are other ways retailers can make a difference.
  8. IT Initiatives - There are many IT initiatives that can be undertaken to help improve the environment. Software applications that can reduce or eliminate paper outputs, use of digital/shelf tags instead of price labels and other such applications. A colleague of mine is involved in a company, Transaction Tree, that eliminates paper receipts and can have them all e-mailed directly to the customer. Stores like the Stanford Store (a Stanford University apparel shop) have eliminated paper receipts and handles them electronically, sending out customized and personalized e-receipts. There are also companies like Carbon Foresight who provide services along with their CarbonConnect software that can evaluate & measure your overall carbon footprint.

These are just a few suggestions/ideas that might help you look at some of your own business practices with a ‘greener’ eye. What greentailing steps are you taking that I may not have covered? Please share your stories/examples with us.