Consumers and companies are increasingly conscious about environmental issues and the necessity to act accordingly. What are the implications of such a deep change in consumption habits? What are consumers’ expectations? How is retail shifting towards more sustainability?
Concerns around sustainability issues have reached fever pitch, driven by the perfect storm of political pressure, consumer activism and the growing body of irrefutable scientific evidence showing the harmful effects of these issues on our world and our health.Report 'Westfield How we shop: The next decade'
Consumers want eco-friendly, clean and ethical products
Indeed, the environmental issue has become a central concern and consumers are changing the way they slop towards more responsible solutions in line with their values, especially in the field of retail. Thus, 3 shoppers out of 4 want retailers to commit further to address environmental concerns (How we shop report) : they now expect brands to adapt their offers accordingly and take concrete actions that will have an effective positive impact.
Among their main requests, they are asking in particular for more transparency and information on the value chain (origin of the products and materials, respect of human rights and animal rights), less carbon emissions thanks to local production and fewer use of polluting materials (60% of shoppers want retailers to ban single-use plastics). These demands are especially driven by younger consumers, as 90% of Gen Z and Millennials declared they would abandon a product or brand for eco-friendliness. (LIM College, 2018)
So how can retailers and brands take the lead on change and sustainability?
76% of global consumers say that CEOs should take the lead on change, and not wait for governments to act in favour of the environment (according to the TrendWatching report on Sustainable Consumers co-created with URW Lab in 2019). In this context, inspiring organizations have disclosed innovative sustainability solutions and have chosen to collaborate to solve society’s toughest problems. There are many ways in which brands can answer consumers’ aspirations, from offsetting their carbon footprint to changing their whole business models. Below are a few examples of projects that illustrate these trends.
An increasing number of consumers value access over ownership: rather than owning, consumers are willing to rent, lend, exchange and share products:
- For instance, this is what Rent the Runway does with its subscription offer that enables women to rent designer styles,
- We can also mention The Drop at Westfield Stratford, a pop-up store that enabled shoppers to rent streetwear designer clothes and all shop proceeds went to Save The Children’s Big Up Uganda.
According to Ellen McArthur’s Foundation report of 2017, one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second in the world. Whether it be upcycling, recycling, second-hand, reselling or repairing: many business models can offer products a second life instead of ending up in the trash. And there are real market opportunities: the second hand apparel market is predicted to double between 2018 and 2023 to reach $51Bn. Organisations are flourishing with this circular approach, and many start-ups have scaled up quickly already, becoming key actors in their sector:
- General waste: the startup Phenix offers waste management to some of the Group’s centres, in Westfield Rosny 2 for instance where it aims to recycle or revalue 100% of the waste produced in the centre by 2024,
- Food: Too Good To Go that fights against food waste has helped 120 retailers present in the Group’s shopping centres save a total of 126,000 meals worth 230 tons of CO2 saved in 2019,
- Clothes: the application Vinted puts individuals in contact to sell and buy clothes, the platform Vestiaire Collective enables to buy second-hand luxury items, and the Red Cross collects clothes donations in pop-ups installed in the Group’s shopping centres.
Giving out transparent information to consumers on the making process of products is becoming critical for brands, as consumers increasingly want to be actors of their consumption and know exactly what impact their purchases will have. For example, VEJA has made its whole process of shoe making traceable and transparent, just as the limits encountered to get 100% ethical and eco-friendly shoes.
Local and low-carbon products
Consumer conscience rapidly accelerates the demand for more local solutions that has several advantages: more flexibility, less transport pollution. In that respect, we can mention innovations in the food sector:
- the French collaborative company La Ruche qui dit oui has created a network of customers and local producers through a digital platform where customers can purchase local and seasonal food products,
- the growing number of urban farms that experiment such methods: e.g. Sous Les Fraises’ rooftop farm at So Ouest (Levallois-Perret) or Peas and Love at Westfield Parly 2 are urban farms that supply local shops and restaurants with the products grown. Scaling such solutions could result in minimising carbon emissions due to transport, offering fresher products and having more green spaces in urban areas.
Low-carbon production goes beyond local food production, it is also about cleaner and less polluting materials: e.g., the B2B company Hoffmann Green offers this kind of alternative with a low-carbon cement technology, that the Group has tested for the Ateliers Gaîté project.
The Group is convinced that supporting brands and retailers that take into account environmental concerns and strive to make a positive impact will contribute to shifting to a responsible and sustainable retail paradigm.