Yvon Chouinard’s announcement to transfer ownership of Patagonia to a trust and a non-profit organisation is one of the strongest and most significant examples we’ve seen of brands turning their values into action to address climate change. While this may not be a viable approach for many Australian brands, we’re beginning to see shifts across the industry towards more sustainable and responsible business practices.

Today, nearly 50% of consumers globally choose to buy from brands with a clear commitment to sustainability, and Australian shoppers are leading the pack with our research finding Aussies are four times more likely to buy from brands that match their values. 

Nowadays, if businesses want to reduce their negative impact on the environment, and attract and retain the growing number of socially conscious consumers and employees, it is crucial they take the necessary steps towards a more sustainable approach. 

That’s why, in the next year, Australian brands are consciously making an effort to improve sustainability and reduce their environmental impact. Our research found that over a third of brands are establishing long-term goals and targets as well as distancing themselves from partners that are unwilling to meet their sustainability standards. 

Sustainability provides endless opportunities to better connect with consumers, and while becoming completely sustainable might not be within grasp just yet, there are a bunch of steps that can be taken. 

  1. Go waste-free 

Reducing the amount of waste a company produces is paramount to demonstrating a strong commitment to sustainability. Going paperless can create efficiencies and cut as much 30% of an employee’s work time by automating more business processes using digital receipts and calendars, and implementing paper-free statements for banking and financial needs using services like QuickBooks and Xero. Going digital can also be achieved with showrooming using virtual showroom software to showcase collections and create virtual samples to sell from. 

Additionally, waste can be reduced by monitoring the retail supply chain. If you make any of your own goods, audit your waste and look for ways to use recyclable or reusable products in the manufacturing process. If you purchase and resell premade goods, ask for transparency from your vendors about issues like labour practices, safety conditions, pollution, and waste. 

  1. Recycle in all stages 

Recycling old goods or setting up an initiative to collect items that can be repurposed or donated, can greatly demonstrate a business’ commitment to sustainability. 

Second-hand, resale, or vintage products are popular among consumers as it is more affordable and has a lower environmental impact. While selling second-hand may not fit every business model, this strategy can be incorporated by setting up a buy-back program in which returns are accepted to be resold, repaired, or recycled into new products. A similar approach can be implemented with unsold stock or samples through social enterprises like Thread Together. Creative reuse allows for the transformation of waste materials or unwanted merchandise into new materials or products; in turn, reducing textile and cloth waste.

Shopify merchant, Patagonia, approaches this in a different way by providing advice and services to repair items so they “stay in play” for longer, and taxing themselves 1% on every sale to invest in the planet.

  1. Implement better packaging and shipping practices 

One of the most impactful changes that a business owner can make is shipping, which accounts for nearly 3% of global carbon emissions. We found that half of Australian consumers said knowing a brand is actively working on reducing its carbon footprint influences what they buy and who they buy it from. Investing in sustainability initiatives to measure and track emissions can reduce the impact of last-mile deliveries by using sustainable shipping partners like Sendle, one of the first 100% carbon neutral shipping services in Australia.

Offering carbon neutral shipping options for customers is a great way to build sustainability into the shipping practices of any retail business. The Planet app is an easy and effective way for merchants to offer carbon-neutral shipping and support the technologies necessary for future-proofing the planet. The app makes it easy for entrepreneurs to support carbon neutral shipping procedures, while providing crucial peace of mind to sustainability-focused customers. Empowering customers to select these options at checkout helps them feel like they are part of the sustainability efforts towards conserving the planet.

  1. Be transparent

Sustainability, and ethical behaviours more broadly, are of growing importance to consumers, so it’s important to be open and honest in the initiatives undertaken by the business. In doing so, customers and stakeholders are able to further their own sustainability efforts by supporting a business that cares about the environment, community, and future. 

Almost half of brands are investing in being more transparent about their sustainability vision, goals, and progress with Shopify merchants like Bar None, Zero Waste Culture, Frank Green, Boody and Who Gives A Crap at the forefront of the industry by openly communicating their sustainability commitment at the heart of their online stores. Communicating goals internally and externally keeps businesses accountable, and can also positively influence shoppers’ purchasing decisions in the long term.

While not every business can follow the same path, there are many ways that brands can become pioneers in sustainability by adjusting their approach to win increasingly conscious consumers. Like Patagonia, who has taken impressive action to reduce its environmental impact, retailers are now showing that they are listening and taking clear action to address ongoing sustainability issues for years to come.

Shaun Broughton is managing director for APAC at Shopify.