Retailers are struggling to catch up with the sea-change in consumer requirements from disposable and convenience to sustainable, green, eco and conscience goods.
In food stores, people are demanding refillable, plastic-free and responsibly sourced. And in fashion, it is away from fast-fashion, cheap and replaceable items to goods that won’t damage the planet, aren’t produced in Asian sweat shops and which don’t use child labour.
In all sectors, there is a demand for products without plastic, and which satisfy our need for sustainability and sustainable living. In essence, people are asking: “ is it going to harm a polar bear if I buy this?”
For anyone involve in selling to consumers – and this means pretty much all of us – the implications are enormous. The whole of retail is currently predicated on plastic wrapping, whether it is food or cleaning products. A large proportion of clothing is made from synthetics, or contains some plasticisers, such as lycra for stretch and comfort. Nowhere is retail set up to dispense with plastic altogether and return to commerce of yesteryear. Paper wrapping means weighing, so it means more staff and higher costs. It means a complete move away from self-service. It costs more. No-one has properly cracked refilling. Milk in glass bottles means milkmen and daily deliveries. The problems just stack up.
But eco-commerce is now a must-have, that is being demanded by people upset at the speed of climate change and damage to the environment by our way of living. If even recycling is damaging the planet, because it simply moves the problem to countries such as Malaysia, that simply can’t cope with mountains of plastic waste, then even this is not an acceptable option.
So what role loyalty in our desperate search for sustainable options for living?
There are a few initiatives, but currently it is something of a blank canvas. But this doesn’t mean no-one is thinking about it.
When we officially announced that there would be an Eco-Loyalty award in 2020 as part of the Loyalty Magazine Awards, there was much nodding of heads in approval at the gala awards evening that gathered together the leading game-changers in Loyalty.
The time is right for companies to reward consumers for choosing sustainably – even though for many retailers, there will be a massive impact on their current bottom line.
To quote a recent article in Bloomberg: “..clothing output has roughly doubled in the past 15 years, with carbon emissions from textile production calculated to exceed those of all maritime shipping and international flights combined. Polyester and cotton make up 85% of all clothing material, and both are rough on the planet. The extraction of crude oil, the basis of polyester, can produce toxic leaks and generate polluted wastewater. Most polyester isn’t biodegradeable. What’s more, the fabric requires chemical dyes, which contaminate groundwater sources. Cotton is an especially water – and insecticide-intensive crop. Some 2,700 litres (713 gallons) of water – enough to sustain a person for three years – are needed to grow the cotton in a single T-shirt.”
Some brands are using more organic cotton, grown without pesticides, but it makes up only 1% of the global crop and uses as much water as regular cotton.
Change is on the way, but the impact has yet to be felt. Those companies signed up to the Global Fashion Agenda, are trying to use recycled plastic in clothes, and less insecticides, but fast fashion is not slowing down any time soon. Only 1% of clothing is recycled.
It is still extremely hard to buy food or household goods without plastic wrapping.
So there is plenty for the loyalty business to do – and much to achieve. Eco-loyalty could be a massive differentiator.
People are ready to take part, and will be delighted to get rewarded for their efforts to achieve eco-living. In today’s world it is extremely difficult to live life in a way that doesn’t harm the planet, so any encouragement and focus will be welcomed by all of us.