Climate change and retail: Why the retail sector cannot ignore sustainability

September 23, 2019

Retail stores help to create brand experiences. Admittedly, this realization is not particularly new, but it is more important than ever for the retail and real estate industries to understand and accept.

A store is the place where people and brands meet physically, get to know each other. Therefore, brands and retailers have to understand, address and respond to people’s needs. For most of society, it is the issue of sustainability above all that is prompting a rethink. More and more people are embracing vegetarianism as a first step towards a more ecological lifestyle. Organic products have become mainstream and the transformation in mobility has already arrived in some garages.

Retail is stuck in the sustainability Stone Age

In contrast to broader societal change, individual sectors such as the retail industry can seem like dinosaurs. The fashion industry in particular is criticized for overproduction, dubious manufacturing conditions and its “too cheap to keep” mentality. If an hour of parking costs more than a T-shirt, how can a customer be expected to measure the real value of products and services. In other words, why mend a T-shirt when you can simply buy a new one? This is a mindset that has now sparked a backlash.

A glimpse into the shelves at Manufactum in Wien, via Markus Schwitzke GmbH.
A glimpse into the shelves at Manufactum in Wien, via Markus Schwitzke GmbH. Jana Ludwig

Change for conscious consumption

Modern consumers want to shop with a clear conscience and retailers are now in the process of adjusting to this new reality. However, short-term lip service to sustainability is not enough. Retailers and brands must act on their own initiative and develop attitudes and strategies as a basis for a consistently sustainable (re)orientation. Sustainability to become part of every retailer’s DNA and, of course, lived from the inside out, including how a store is designed and operated!

The recycled store

To achieve this, the design and functionality of a store has to be so good that they will stand the test of time and outlast fleeting trends. For both design and shopfitting, this means integrating principles such as flexibility, neutrality and versatility as well as recyclability and repurposability. It is not a question of constantly producing something new—and thus also of producing waste—but of reusing things, adapting them and perhaps even lending them out.

Creating a greener tomorrow

This is a paradigm shift that has only just begun for many. As a group of companies that supports retailers, brands and developers from strategic orientation, design and architecture to turnkey projects, we see it as our duty to lead the way. We want to assess the status quo, find out what’s already going on in terms of sustainability and explore the visions that will define tomorrow. Together with EXPO REAL, we have created Green Leap—an interactive platform during the trade fair which will showcase experts who have already taken inspiring steps. A place for discussion, exchanging ideas, driving change and looking at the future of the retail and real estate industries from a new, sustainable perspective. Let’s make the great green leap!

Markus Schwitzke

Managing Director, Schwitzke Identity Design GmbH