Canadian Retailer - Fall 2011 - (Page 26)
| RETAIL SUSTAINABILITY
By Ian Morton, Chairman and Senior Advisor, Summerhill Group Inc.
question that I’m frequently asked from our retail clients these days is… “Do customers care about sustainability anymore?” They want to understand the justification for continuing to invest marketing dollars into something that they perceive as an initiative that is largely disappearing from the public radar. The answer though is not a simple yes or no. While they might not be buying green products, customer expectations remain high when it comes to retailer sustainability. So, the next question that begs is, why do these expectations exist? It seems counterintuitive to many that consumers are reluctant to buy green products (though some categories are high e.g., appliances via Energy Star) while maintaining lofty expectations concerning retailer initiatives. And, again, there is no single answer to this question. Though, it could certainly be proffered that many of these expectations, in part at least, are being driven by the fact that government is pulling its support of environmental/social initiatives because of budget limitations, looking instead to the private sector to fill the void. In other cases, NGOs such as Greenpeace target companies, for-
cing them to alter their operational practices or assortment (seafood labeling is a recent example) leading them to communicate about their green activities, thereby creating an expectation from customers. Some retailers have used sustainability as a key part of their communications platform. And there are others that are very open and transparent about their sustainability agenda. In a recent edition of the Globe and Mail Report on Business, it was noted that, “…consumers increasingly say that companies should stand for something other than mere profit and more importantly that they should put their beliefs into action.” And consumer use of social media is driving this message, resulting in the need for retailers, and business in general, to be as transparent as possible about their practices… especially around sustainability. Amid the economic uncertainty and highly competitive marketplace, it is hard to deny that issues related to sustainability have dropped as a top priority for most retailers. Environment is lagging in public opinion polls too, and is often absent from mainstream media coverage. The public and market, it seems, has moved on to other issues of concern such as healthcare and unemployment. But seriously, did most customers really care that deeply about sustainability in the first place? Sure, they stopped using pesticides and plastic bags, but only after the Government made it impossible for them to do so. Most have installed compact fluor-
Customers don’t want to be told how sustainable you are – they want to see the evidence for themselves!
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Canadian Retailer - Fall 2011
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
HAVE YOUR SAY
Canadian Retailer - Fall 2011