7 Ways You Can Become a “Greener” Retailer

As a small retailer, it’s easy to be green!

It seems that no matter where we look today, everyone is talking green. The retailing industry is no exception. So, what exactly is green retailing?  In a nutshell, it can be defined as 1) what you sell and 2) how you sell it.

From Leed-certified buildings, to waste reduction, to offering eco-friendly products, many big box stores are beginning to think about how they can become more green… with many already having green standards in place. In fact, for some retailers, their entire philosophy evolves around the mission of being good to Mother Earth.  For example, Patagonia, a clothing retailer who manufactures and sells clothes for outdoor lifestyles and sporting, was built around the following mission statement:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Granted, most of our companies will not have this all-encompassing philosophy; however, there are some relatively easy steps we can take to cooperate with the movement.  Here are a few suggestions that can be incorporated into any retail business model quickly and inexpensively:

  1. Encourage employees to recycle. This includes everything from their lunch and snack items to all product packing materials.
  2. If you ship products, use Earth-friendly packaging materials such as craft paper. Please, please, please, no more Styrofoam packing peanuts! Another idea? Re-purpose packaging your vendors ship products to you with.
  3. If you burn or sell candles in your store, make sure they are natural soy or beeswax. These candles are non-toxic and burn cleaner than paraffin, without adding toxic carcinogens into the air you and your customer breathe. They are also bio-degradable and support the U.S. agricultural industry.
  4. Provide customers with bags that are reusable. By now, we all know that plastic bags are bad in so many ways including polluting the environment, littering the landscape, killing animals, and requiring petroleum for production. Even though they can be cheaper to buy, more durable, and more sanitary than some of the alternatives, plastic bags are not a good idea. In the long run, offering your own reusable bag, or rewarding customers to provide their own, is definitely becoming the norm. Another benefit? If you’re branding is on them, they add more visibility to your store as your customers tote them around town.
  5. Buy from local companies and artists. In addition to cutting down on the pollution of transportation costs, many of these artists will make organic products which gives you a green bonus. Remember that organic products aren’t just food items. Almost any clothing, accessory, or soft-goods’ item can be made from natural materials. And while most retailers cannot rely exclusively on locally produced goods, nearly all merchants can make this part of their entire inventory mix.
  6. Offer a trade-in day for merchandise similar to yours. For every gently-used item that a customer brings in, offer a discount on a purchase in your store. Donate the gently used items to a local charity or offer them as a swap to another customer who brings in an item. Doing good and selling… a win-win!
  7. Participate in Earth Day. Find, or sponsor, an event in your local community. If you do not have the time to physically participate in the activities of the day, offer to sponsor an event through a donation. But even more importantly, lead by example. Incorporate green into your world everyday vs. just this one day to truly help Mother Nature.

Once you have your program in place, let people know! This can be as simple as putting a sign as your checkout listing all the ways that you are doing your part. And, although the immediate impact may not seem all that significant, every little bit does contribute to the greater good.

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