Products that minimize harm to our planet benefit all of us, thus the most sustainable retail solution is the most desirable solution. As a retailer, however, implementing sustainability doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style.
Sustainable products can be deemed design-forward by providing functional, fashionable products that allow retailers to send a message to consumers: You don’t have to sacrifice personality or design for your social and environmental ethics. Consumer demand for more sustainable products is causing retail giants like Ikea and Wal-Mart to take notice.
Wal-Mart recently asked suppliers to stop using eight controversial chemicals in an effort to cater to consumers’ desires for safety and transparency. However, addressing those concerns doesn’t mean retailers have to sacrifice a massive pillar of consumer-desired style.
When sustainability is aesthetically pleasing, customers less inclined to join the movement otherwise will be more likely to provide repeat business. Lining your aisles with delightful, effective and responsible products will bring sustainability to scale, benefiting your company and the environment.
Stock Products That Are Easy on the Earth and the Eyes
Attaching the term “eco-friendly” to a product doesn’t necessarily elicit the most optimized customer response. It’s for precisely that reason that some sustainable products — particularly the less-than-lovely and not-so-effective ones — play up their “green” or “eco” virtues over purpose.
Oftentimes, when a product’s core focus is sustainability, all the company's effort amasses in eco-friendliness, but not its look or design. However, that which makes something green doesn’t necessarily make it pretty. Combining form and function makes sustainability attractive.
So how can retailers get the best of both worlds? The following recommendations outline a path retailers can take to achieve this balance:
1. Look for products that don’t just talk the talk. If you need a seal of approval for a sustainable product you’re selling, look no further than its certifications. Labels such as Cradle to Cradle and B Corp indicate a responsibly made product that meets the standards of environmentally conscious customers.
A good example of a balanced, sustainable product is the bright red reusable cup on my desk, produced by Preserve. The cup, which is stylish enough to garner frequent compliments from colleagues, contains a B Corp logo.
People gravitate toward the cup because it looks great, and they love it even more because that mark celebrates values such as sustainability and community. The bonus they don’t know? It’s made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.
Promote companies that exhibit transparency in their processes and products, voluntarily meet environmental regulations, and positively impact the world while ensnaring committed customers.
2. Take a chance on intelligent design. Several companies use 100 percent recycled materials in their packaging, while some take innovation to the next level. Consider Ecovative, which specializes in biodegradable packing and insulation material. The products are mainly composed of recycled mushrooms, which then become everything from wall tiles to lampshades.
Engage consumers by providing products that are not only sustainably designed, but also aesthetically pleasing. Therefore you have two great hooks — generating up to double the revenue potential — with which to capture a consistent clientele.
3. Ask about assessment. Question the standards the product is held to, including the company's partners in the supply chain. For example, how consistent in a company’s DNA is its commitment to product sustainability? Is the product in question merely a one-off gimmick for the company? The supply chain is a mirror of a company’s values, so make sure transparency runs all the way down the line.
There need not be a trade-off between beauty and responsibility, design and environment, or functionality and sustainability. Retailers should stock products that are as pleasing to the planet as they are to the consumer’s eye.
Consumers shouldn’t have to make a stylistic sacrifice to make sustainable decisions. Products should be sustainable, accessible, operational and attractive. Retailers can achieve all of these qualities in their products, and in the process cultivate an engaged base of repeat customers.
Ryan Williams is the global greenskeeper-product experience at method products, a supplier of premium planet-friendly and design-driven home, fabric and personal care products.