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One of the greatest impacts that retailers have on the environment is through the products they offer their customers. Shoppers around the world are increasingly concerned about the environmental impacts of the products they choose. And many astute retailers are heeding the growing desire for greener products and filling a niche that is quickly becoming mainstream.
Customers rely on retailers to research the products they sell and to provide transparent, relevant information about the lifecycle of a product. Green product labels can inform buyers about some of their environmental benefits and/or drawbacks.
Breadth of Practice
Green product labels are best guided by quantifiable, easily verifiable standards. Many major retailers have developed their own line of green products according to their own standards. The Greening Retail Best Practices database contains eight case studies of retailers who have done that. Other retailers use third-party certification and labelling programs. These standards help retailers find products that have been evaluated against a number of relevant criteria. Retailers want to be sure that what they endorse as 'green' lives up to its advertising in order to avoid what some call the 'greenwashing' of their products.
Another way to screen products is to eliminate ones that are the worst offenders; for example, the most inefficient products, or products that contain harmful materials. Retailers vary in the number of green products they offer. The Greening Retail Best Practices database contains examples of five companies who offer a limited range of green products, while two companies have gone all out to specialize in green products. Because greening product lines requires cooperation, some companies have formed partnerships for this purpose: three examples of this are provided here.
The following table summarizes the types of practices found in the Greening Retail best practice database that pertain to green products and includes the number of companies for which this practice is described in the database.
Apply Standards for Own-Brand Green Products
Green product labels are best guided by quantifiable, easily verifiable standards. Many major retailers have developed their own line of green products according to their own standards. The following are just a few examples of retailers who have developed their own environmental labels:
Use Third-party Certification
Third-party certification gives products extra credibility. Numerous retailers are opting for merchandise with labels developed outside of their organization. The retailers below have used two widely-recognized certifications: MSC-certified and FSC-certified products.
Eliminate Some of the Most Undesirable Products
Some retailers are screening products that have been identified as having significant deleterious effects on the environment. For example, coral has long been used in fine jewellery. But for six years Tiffany has refused to use this precious material in their collections until they are convinced that coral harvesting is sustainable and does not threaten marine ecosystems. Moreover, Tiffany's Foundation supports research and community-led work focused on halting the destruction of coral reefs that results from overfishing, shore development and the effects of global warming.
B&Q is to stop selling non-energy-efficient light bulbs within three years. One of their initial steps is to phase out Patio Heaters - B&Q is apparently the largest seller of patio heaters in the United Kingdom. But, given the fact that the smallest 4.5kW table top patio heater emits as much CO2 in two hours as the average individual electricity consumption for a whole day, the company is committing not restocking them once its seasonal stock for 2008 runs out.
Finally, Sears said it's working to phase out polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, in its packaging and merchandise.
Offer Range of Eco-Products
Retailers often develop a suite of products with special environmentally-friendly features.
Specialize in Eco-Friendly Products
For the customer who intentionally seeks out greener merchandise, an increasing number of stores are specializing in that area. For example, the Greater Goods store is part of a growing niche of eco-friendly consumer goods stores. They're making a slow, quiet entry into the local retail field, staring down some heady competition in national big-box players that are greening up their own aisles in hopes of hooking the same carbon-conscious shoppers.
For retailers like The Isku Furniture Company, green is integrated into the majority of their products. They strive to achieve maximum eco-efficiency by using home-grown birch as their principal raw material.
Owner of the store, 'ecoexistence', Kym Klopp, checked out the competition before opening her store: "They focus on stationery and pens, things you don't really need. We sell things you actually need. We have a gift element but I really wanted it to be stuff you could use every day, the essentials." The store is divided to focus on different rooms of the house - bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, nursery and pets - to help customers gradually incorporate green living into their home and lifestyle.
It's difficult for a retailer to go-it-alone in greening their products. Boots, for instance, has close relationships with a number of NGOs working in fields relevant to their business - for example, the environmental impact of chemicals used in manufacturing. In close collaboration with partners from the academic world, they're exploring the potential of new sustainable feedstocks. Wal-Mart is creating networks of innovation made up of suppliers, associates, and non-governmental organizations. They are working on sustainable packaging, cotton, wood, fish, produce, electronics, and the elimination of substances of concern in all merchandise.
This synopsis was compiled from case studies in the Greening Retail Best Practice Database. Sources for the information in the case studies are cited in the database.
This database contains links to case studies of environmental best practice from retailers around the world. You can search this database by the name of the company only, or you can find case studies that match one or several specific criteria, such as the type of retailer, the type of best practice, the company's country of origin, and/or project return on investment.
Simply select your search criteria in the spaces provided and hit the "search" button to come up with a list of the kinds of case studies you're looking for.
Please note that we cannot include all the practices of every retailer; therefore, the non-inclusion of a company, or of a certain area of practice for a company, does not mean that they do not presently have progressive environmental initiatives in these areas.
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