Challenging consumer behaviour in the retail sector


According to the BRC, the retail industry (including product supply chains) is one of the largest contributors to UK greenhouse gas emissions, with goods sold to consumers accounting for over 30% of all emissions. Retailers are increasingly aware of the benefits of integrating sustainable practices into their own operations and the risks of failing to do so. In order to reach the industry's net zero goals, retailers must also use their influential position to drive behavioural change amongst consumers.

How can retailers do this?

  1. Offer and promote sustainable products: Retailers can curate their product offering and promote organic, locally sourced, fair-trade and ethically produced products. Sustainability information should be presented at times and places where customers are likely to engage with it.
  2. Educate consumers: Retailers can provide consumers with information about environmental issues, climate change and the need to reduce carbon, as well as the environmental impact of certain products or habits. The carbon impact of purchases could be shown on receipts.
  3. Integrate sustainable practices into their operations: Retailers should lead by example by demonstrating their commitment to sustainability by setting sustainability criteria for suppliers and promoting sustainable sourcing, ethical labour practices and a reduction of emissions in supply chains/production processes. 
  4. Reduce waste and increase the longevity of products: Retailers should consider how to extend the economic and physical life of a product. Retailers could direct consumers to resources and ideas for repairing, reusing or upcycling products or set up communities for this. Technology and AI could be utilised to reduce waste; for example, fashion retailers could use AI to enable online customers to try items on before they buy them to reduce returns and the waste and environmental impact associated with this. 
  5. Help consumers dispose of products responsibly: Retailers can educate consumers around the disposal of products and the impact of wrong actions on the environment. They could accept products for recycling in store or partner with recycling initiatives.
  6. Reward sustainable behaviour: Retailers could offer incentives for customers who make sustainable choices by offering discounts, vouchers or rewards to customers for donating or recycling old products or for bringing their own bags or containers.
  7. Enable a sharing economy: Retailers could promote a sharing or rental economy over ownership.

What's in it for the retailers? 

  1. Enhanced brand reputation.
  2. Attracting and appealing to the increasing number of consumers prioritising sustainability: According to the Global Data Consumer Survey, 45% of Millennials and Gen Z refuse to buy from non-responsible brands.
  3. Opportunity to differentiate and gain a competitive advantage.
  4. Opportunity for deeper engagement with consumers which could increase customer loyalty and repeat purchases.
  5. Optimising margins by reducing waste and generating new revenue streams such as by renting products to customers or selling refurbished or recycled products.

Retailers have the potential to drive significant behavioural change in consumers by guiding and educating them to act and purchase sustainably. With notable benefits for retailers, as well as the environment, retailers should think about the measures they can implement to reduce barriers to sustainability and encourage consumers to adopt sustainable behaviours. 

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"The retail industry – including product supply chains – is one of the largest contributors to UK greenhouse gas emissions, with goods sold to consumers accounting for over 30% of all emissions"
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