The fashion industry is vibrant, dynamic and at the forefront of change. However, it’s also incredibly competitive. To stand out from the crowd and appeal to today’s increasingly, conscientious shoppers, fashion retailers must stand for more. In Australia, six tonnes of cheap and mass-produced ‘fast fashion’ items are dumped in landfills every 10 minutes. It’s a figure that, without action, could grow as the demand for clothing is forecasted to increase by 63% within the next decade.

With climate change now the defining issue for this generation, and excess waste and unethical labour practices becoming more salient topics than they once were, consumer purchasing habits are changing. Indeed, research shows that 87% of Australians are more likely to purchase products that are ethically-sourced and sustainably-produced. So, if the last 12 months were about survival, the next 12 – and indefinitely beyond that – will be about sustainability. With a heightened focus on the mark we’re leaving on the planet, retailers must consider their approach to sustainability seriously. Here are some sustainability initiatives to help retailers of all sizes stand out from the fast-fashion crowd.

Sustainability in everyday practices

One of the simplest ways to up your sustainability commitment is to choose energy-efficient and waste-reducing equipment and appliances, particularly in-store. Start by opting for energy-saving appliances, lighting, and equipment. Also consider reducing paper usage in your operation. Identify tasks or processes that require a pen and paper, then work to digitise them. A great example of this is physical receipts. Reduce paper usage by asking shoppers if they prefer an emailed receipt – especially today as lingering concerns over physical contact remain. Not only can this have great benefits for sustainability, but it can streamline the back-end of your retail operations, too. It may sound overly simplistic, but it’s the easiest first step in a renewed commitment to sustainability. 

Sustainable packaging alternatives

From shipping ecommerce orders to receiving stock, packaging is essential in retail. However, many conventional packaging materials are extremely damaging to the environment, so consider how you can implement eco-friendly alternatives, such as recyclable materials. Australian consumers are looking for ways to reduce their environmental footprint, with many turning to purchasing decisions as a way to make their mark. So, consider how helping your customers to ‘offset’ the impact of their retail habits can benefit your own sustainability efforts.

Make sustainable retail part of your brand story

While implementing sustainable practices is one step, it’s just as important to let your customers know what they (and the planet) stand to gain by supporting your business. To do this, incorporate sustainability into your regular communications with valued customers. After all, in an increasingly competitive space where shoppers perhaps have more variety and choice than ever, it’s important that your business stands for more. Whether you’re a multi-outlet chain with stores nationwide, or an independent retailer in rural Queensland, communicate to your customers how sustainability fits seamlessly within your ethos. To develop a deeper relationship with customers whose values are aligned with your own, communicate the causes your business benefits, how your actions create a better product or customer experience and your long-term sustainability goals and initiatives. This goes not only for sustainability, but any cause that’s important to you and your business.

Avoid ‘greenwashing’

Greenwashing, whereby businesses make misleading claims about how sustainable their operation or products are, isn’t a new trend. However, it’s become increasingly prevalent as sustainable brands and products become more in-demand. To avoid falling into this basket, ensure you not only talk about sustainability, but act on it in every part of your business, too. Think of sustainability as a long-term strategy, rather than an immediate trend, and you’ll find shoppers’ affinity to your brand will grow. If your actions don’t match your words, your customers will find out eventually.

Sustainability has become a powerful value proposition to increasingly conscious consumers, but it also has the added benefit of helping you be part of the solution. Whether you’re taking small steps to reduce your business’ environmental impact, or are well on your way to being carbon-neutral, remember the value in making it a part of your brand story.

Gordana Redzovski is vice president for Asia Pacific at Vend.