Consumer Sustainability Interest and What it Means for Retailers, The MDC Group

Consumer Sustainability Interest and What it Means for Retailers

A 2018 study by Nielsen titled “Consumers Around the World Care about Environmental Issues” found that most people within all present generations think it’s important that companies implement environmental improvement programs. The younger generations are especially interested in supporting responsible companies, but even 65% of the oldest North Americans look to companies for environmental improvement programs.

Percentage of Each Generation Think Companies Should Have Environmental Improvement Programs

• GenZ (born mid to late 1990s through early 2010s) 80%
• Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) 85%
• GenX (born late 1960s- early 1990s) 79%
• Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)72%
• Silent Generation (born 1928- 1945) 65%

That attitude about global warming has many consumers looking for retailers with solutions. Those solutions should include both energy-saving operational changes and sustainable shopping efforts. Reducing energy use may mean remodels and building improvements. Sustainable shopping means offering goods and services designed, manufactured, and distributed in environmentally friendly ways and providing easy recycling options. Retailers joining this trend need to evaluate and improve building energy efficiency and make large adjustments to their manufacturing as well as distribution methods.

Building Design – Going Green and Reducing Energy Use


Energy-saving building redesigns for retailers, especially grocery stores, may include adding windows and skylights and alternative energy sources like roof solar panels to reduce electricity use. Adding natural light during daylight hours and using sensors to reduce electric lighting when there’s enough sunlight lowers energy costs. Adding solar power panels on the rooftop can provide power for the parking lot and outside lighting. Lighting is often a substantial percentage of a commercial building’s energy use, so adding daylight and installing more energy-efficient lighting fixtures and occupancy sensors can save money and reduce carbon emissions. Companies can install occupancy sensors and connect lights to them in storerooms, back offices, and other low-traffic areas.

Replacing older fluorescent bulb fixtures with newer ones that take thinner, more efficient tubes can also reduce energy use. Research shows thinner fluorescent tube bulbs give the same amount of light while using less electricity. For example, replacing fixtures that take the T-12 bulbs (1.5” wide) with ones that take T-8 bulbs (1” wide) can save about 18%. Installing LED lighting saves even more. U.S. government studies have shown that LED bulbs consume up to 75% less energy while lasting 25 times longer. LED lighting works well for outdoor signage and parking lots.

In restaurants and supermarkets, LED lighting over refrigeration units has two advantages:
LED is cooler than traditional lighting, so refrigeration motors don’t work as hard. Customers prefer it. According to a study by the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 86% of shoppers prefer LED light for freezer cases.

Choose Sustainable and Environmentally Smart Materials

When commercial building owners decide to renovate or update their look, using sustainable materials and letting the public know you are making responsible material decisions lets people know you care. Some sustainable or smart materials to consider:

Smart Glass Windows – Smart glass, also called switchable glass or E-glass, uses advanced technologies to insulate and block light. The transparent glass turns opaque when an electric current is added. With the application of electricity, the Chromogenic materials within the glass change the properties of light. Smart glass reduces heat loss and eliminates the need for window coverings.

Bamboo Floors – For that new gourmet food or restaurant area of the store, wood floors could look great but consider using bamboo floors instead. Bamboo is a sustainable flooring choice, because it grows fast and doesn’t need to be replanted as trees do. Bamboo flooring is easy-to-maintain, durable, and looks great.

Insulated Concrete Framing – For building renovations involving new structures, choosing insulated concrete framing has several advantages. Insulated concrete contains rigid thermal insulation and can be used for interior and exterior walls, floors, and roofs. It comes in interlocking, modular forms like Legos to provide natural disaster-resistant, heat-resistant, and cold-resistant structures.

Eco-Friendly Insulation – Besides using insulated concrete framing, stores can improve energy efficiency by adding eco-friendly insulation to inner and outer walls and around HVAC systems. Natural, eco-friendly insulation materials like wool and cotton are formaldehyde-free and cause no skin or lung irritation. Ask your contractor to use recycled materials to reduce the carbon footprint. Adding insulation layers around HVAC pipes and units and electrical outlets reduces energy waste. Insulation resists heat movement to minimize heating and cooling energy use.

Build Self-bagging Areas

One way to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags is to renovate to create a self-bagging area. While cashiers can fill customer’s own reusable bags, sometimes it causes delays, so customers are uncomfortable about it. If cashiers simply return all the groceries to a customer’s cart and let the customer move to an area for self-bagging, checkout lines move faster, and fewer throw-away bags are used. The bagging area needs enough space for several carts simultaneously, good lighting, and counters set at a height convenient for customer use as they fill their bags. When shoppers pack their own reusable bags, they feel good about what they are doing for the environment and appreciate the store making it possible.

LEAD Certification

Ensure your contractor’s workers are LEAD certified with every remodel that may disturb lead paint or older coated surfaces. The Environmental Protection Agency gives courses contractors must take to learn safe practices. When your customers see you are making changes, when it’s appropriate, display a window sign confirming your builders have LEAD certification.

Landscaping to Combat Heat Islands

When commercial properties consider earth-supportive renovations, they may consider some new landscaping options. For example, adding trees can provide shaded areas for consumers and employees, reduce outdoor temperatures, and add oxygen back to the atmosphere. Paved parking areas and sidewalks retain summer heat, adding to heat islands, especially in more urban areas. Urban heat islands, caused by buildings and paved surfaces absorbing and retaining heat, increase temperatures around a building which means more energy for air conditioning inside. Stores and other commercial properties can renovate outside areas to include more green and less paving. Adding some grassy strips and landscaping with green plants help reduce the effects of heat islands. Buildings can even design water collection systems for irrigation.

Letting consumers know that a company cares about the environment and actively takes steps to do its part has become more important. Shoppers want to do business with responsible companies, and they look for opportunities to support environmental efforts. A combination of building redesigns and improvements to reduce energy use and efforts to encourage accountable shopping systems can help make a difference in the efforts towards zero emissions.

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