US retailers and their partners are turning to sustainability as the new foundation for doing business and experts say this might be the way forward for Australian retailing.
Green retail began a few years ago, with retailers battling labour issues, poor performance and public perceptions of being insensitive to their environmental footprint.
Since then, retailers like Wal-Mart have turned their huge multi-site footprints to their advantage with a range of green and sustainable initiatives that have achieved significant financial and environmental savings and introduced a new way of thinking about managing retail businesses.
For Wal-Mart, good business is green business and this has led to other retailers introducing sustainability initiatives to not only help them manage today’s challenging business environment but to also underpin growth.
How Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and other retailers have gone about this and why it has the power to change Australia’s retailing will be the theme of a conference for Australia’s retailers in October, ‘The future’s so bright green sustainability conference’.
The director of sustainable facilities at Wal-Mart and manager of sustainability for McDonalds will participate in the conference by video link and other Australian speakers will provide the research and case studies that point the way towards Australia’s retailing future being bright green.
According to Justin Doak, chief executive officer of US-based green business strategy firm Ecoxera and moderator of the video workshop panel with Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, the breadth and scale of the retail industry means it has the opportunity to share some of the most exciting sustainable business models being developed in the sector.
“By uniting retail partners, service providers, the supply chain, the retail real estate and operational footprint all under a shared initiative to save money and resources, dramatic savings can be felt within a brand as Wal-Mart has successfully demonstrated,” said Doak.
“Now more than ever, retailers have the opportunity to expect more from their partners and reignite an innovative business culture based on sustainability.
“This leaves each retailer with an exciting agenda ahead of it – to re-imagine and recreate the story of retail and not just with greener products on the shelf, but greener products on greener shelves in greener stores and beyond,” he said.
Wal-Mart’s zero-waste program has saved 478.1 million gallons of water, 20.7 million gallons of diesel and millions of pounds of solid waste and it expects to reduce energy consumption by 30 per cent at all its new stores by 2014 under its 100 per cent renewable energy program.
Wal-Mart has now pushed these internal measures outward, with it beginning to evaluate specific environmental attributes for its suppliers and to hold these suppliers accountable for their actions in sustainability.
Mike Farley, founding chair of POPAI Australia and New Zealand’s sustainability committee agrees that Wal-Mart’s ongoing success with its sustainability programs points the way forward for Australian retailers.
“Yes it is a big firm but it is doing well by doing smart, something that all retailers can aspire to – it has not only reduced its environmental footprint but also improved its bottom line performance and reinforced its brand with customers,” he said.
“In today’s eco-era, creating business value will increasingly depend on introducing environmental sustainable and social strategies.
“For those starting out on the sustainability journey, a lot can be achieved with minimal cost by better management of energy and water usage.
“Going further involves reviewing the supply chain and material sources then engaging staff and customers at the personal level.
“Wal-Mart’s success shows that these initiatives can be taken up by all Australian retailers and we look forward to showcasing good green business strategies next month at our conference,” he added.