Brands are scrambling to keep up the enduring desire for a sustainable future – and for good reason, consumers are advocating for eco-friendly practices all over the world. While it may be a sudden change for some, many emerging brands have been establishing, basing their ethos and values around sustainability.
As an agency, we are huge advocates for retail embracing green practices and Freddie Sheridan recently spoke to Alex Hirsch, Retail Design Manager at Westfield about how brands, consumers and agencies alike can implement and promote sustainable practices.
“I think, ultimately, the responsibility needs to come from the brand. Once a brand has formed a specific set of core values that speak to sustainability, or, adopted a new philosophy that brings sustainability into their practices, only then can they begin to address it. Once a brand has adopted this philosophy into its bylaws, then can it begin to seek out partners who can help them address the growing concerns around retail design and sustainability. That’s where the agency comes in.
Agencies have the bandwidth and the resources to continuously be searching for the newest innovations in technology and science, whereas brands tend to be, through no fault of their own, in a bit of a silo when it comes to looking outside of the walls of their own construct. Agencies can be a guiding hand to provide alternate suggestions in the way of materials, tech, storytelling and ultimately looking at how best to share specific information around sustainability with an existing customer base.”
“We have already begun to see this effect of Gen Z in fast fashion and luxury industries. Fast fashion retail giants H&M and Zara, according to CNBC, have seen a 10% decrease in sales and a 7% increase in sales (though analysts are sceptical), respectively. Both brands have developed “eco” lines, touting organic cotton and natural dyes. Zara has gone a step ahead and announced it’s going to be made entirely of sustainable fabrics by 2025.
Now for luxury, Gen Z is only going to magnify the trends; they are more conscious than ever about brands who promote social responsibility. According to Forbes, ‘62% of true-luxury consumers chose to do business with a brand who supports sustainability over one that does not’.
The second-hand market, which is currently tracking at about $24 million annually, is expected to shoot up to $64 million by 2028, according to CNBC. Luxury brands, similar to what we’ve seen Prada most recently announce, are going to have to start finding alternative ways of producing their pricey garbs if they expect Gen Z to follow suit.”
“This is a great question – something I struggle with myself. It often seems that as a result of today’s advertising styles, where every website, subway ad or Instagram post tends to look and feel the same, I think it’s quite hard to truly tell who is real and who may not be as honest as they appear.
It takes a bit more research, but it’s worth doing some digging on brands’ websites to see what specific initiatives they’re posting about. On that note, I would say that many people have a different idea of sustainability – it has, in the consumers’ defence, become a bit of an all-encompassing word these days.
My perspective is two-fold. There’s the camp that preaches holistic sustainability [Patagonia], and there’s the camp that preaches ethics and transparency [Everlane]. Both camps are 100% doing their part, just tackling it from different angles.
Patagonia is a bit of a unicorn when it comes to how it approaches sustainability. Their distribution centre in Reno is LEED* gold, they incentivize employees to carpool by giving them daily subsidies, their cafeteria provides organic locally sourced meals, they have an amazing worn wear program whereby customers can send back used goods to be recycled, they incentivize employees to install solar panels in their homes… the list goes on. But, this type of holistic all-encompassing outlook very clearly speaks to my earlier comments around the need for brands to adopt the philosophy before diving into action items.
Everlane on the other hand, a brand I would consider to be sustainable, achieves this by pushing their involvement in creating and utilizing ethical factories. Taking a transparent and honest approach, they’ve established better conditions for workers, provided better pay, and ultimately created safer environments in countries that often do the exact opposite.”
“So seeing as I already went on a bit of a love fest for Patagonia and Everlane I’ll leave them off the list below. For this exercise, I’m only listing brands that have a physical footprint and are doing their part to not only produce sustainable products but also finding ways to build out inefficient ways. Here goes…
Other brands of note who either only have an online presence or have sustainable products but not (yet) a sustainable physical presence are: The Real Real, ThredUp, Poshmark, ForDays, Nudie Jeans, Doen, Christy Dawn, Sezane, Cuyana Anve Swim, Loop Store, Blueland, Who Gives a Crap, Smol, ByHumanKind, Tata Harper, Kjaer Weis, Seed.”
“Price point and lack of knowledge surrounding alternative options.
Let’s take the example of construction, retail construction to be specific. Construction companies need to think outside the box of getting a store open as quickly as possible no matter the cost and consider that quick can be done at an environmentally friendly cost as well.
Really, the largest problem is this, the lack of knowledge of alternative options. So, General Contractors, when beginning demolition, a standard waste bin is ordered to the site and all building materials in the existing space are dumped. All of it ending up in a landfill, rather than thinking about how to reuse, recycle and repurpose materials.
With regards to the price point, architects and designers may not be aware of suitable “like” materials that don’t break the bank. A few examples are:
“The government, at least at a state level within the United States, has begun to pass carbon emission offset goals – a huge undertaking. New York State is pushing to achieve 80% less than what we saw in 1990, by the year 2050. The current road map puts forth stringent pollution guidelines for buildings that are 25,000 square feet or larger, creates a loan program for renewable energy upgrades, and potentially adds new rules that could make rooftop wind turbines more common.
How does this affect brands? Well, at least in the state of New York, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a retailer in a stand-alone building. Most are beneath office buildings, residential buildings, or within a mixed-use building such as a mall. Brands are quite honestly at the mercy of their landlord’s willingness to move forward with the times and adapt to the new regulations at hand.
Green building practices are roughly 5% more costly in terms of construction. Those initial costs may not be feasible for most brands in the city. However, brands can see a 20-50% reduction in utility bill costs almost instantaneously if renewable products and systems are installed (which relates back to my earlier notes on sustainable product alternatives).”
“In today’s market and with the forthcoming statewide legislation, brands, developers and homeowners alike are going to essentially be forced to consider what has typically seen an alternative, as the main contender. With consumer expectations moving in the direction they are, brand perception needs to align with said expectations in order for brands to continue to grow.
Luckily, there are more sustainable options than ever before, and they are much easier to come by than say, five or so years ago. Manufacturing companies are working to facilitate sustainable product lines in addition to their mass lines and prices are becoming more competitive.
On top of that, with the second-hand industry growing at the pace it is, I would not be surprised if, like fashion, more second-hand furniture and fixtures made their way into the retail design industry. Construction costs may feel like an inhibitor, but not when you look at the value add of what your offset will be once the final product is complete.
The work it takes to gain the knowledge of, and the understanding of how today’s cultural implications affect retail design is something agencies do; having an acute awareness of ever-changing code requirements, legislative impacts to construction, material knowledge and building processes. The value is in the group’s will to teach a brand new directions forward – and show that it’s not as daunting as it may seem.
At the end of the day, brands just need someone who is willing to put in the effort to show them the (green) light at the end of the tunnel – agencies like Sheridan&Co who are willing to put in that effort are where the value lies.”