Consumer concerns about the climate crisis show no sign of abating. Indeed, since 2018, Britons have increasingly listed the environment as a top-three issue facing the country. This peaked at 40% of the UK population during 2021’s COP-26 summit (a 400% rise on early 2018) according to YouGov.

It’s no wonder that so many brands champion ethical or green products and services in their marketing. Especially when you consider a 2021 Forrester study that indicated 60% of online adults in France, 49% in the UK and 41% in the US prefer to buy environmentally sustainable products.

A sea change is underway

A sea change is underway and consumers are looking to retailers for information and guidance.

As you might expect, many of the retail executives we interviewed for a recent report (Retail Experiences of the Future, in partnership with SAP) revealed that sustainable behaviours are one of their priorities into 2022 and beyond. Siti Astrid Kusumawardhani, VP of Public Affairs at Indonesian tech giant GoTo Group, was one of those to speak about carbon reduction.

According to Kusumawardhani, “Gens Z and Y are very aware of climate issues and how everyday activities contribute to it. The GoTo Group has set a target to achieve ‘Three Zeros’ on our platform by 2030, including Zero Emissions, Zero Barriers and Zero Waste. We’re already seeing real excitement from consumers, with strong take up of our carbon offsetting feature GoGreener.”

In addition, GoFood is already reducing single-use plastic packaging waste such as cutlery and straws and helping merchants explore more environmentally friendly packaging options.

From PR to packaging

In China, against a backdrop of increasing ecommerce competition and regulatory scrutiny, the likes of Alibaba and are focusing more on sustainability. For Alibaba in particular, this meant a more low-key approach to its annual Singles Day sales festival, focusing less on the big GMV numbers and more on powering sustainable growth.

For ecommerce and retail in general, packaging is another issue that has long been a concern and the subject of innovation. For Anand Narang, VP of Marketing and Customer Experience at Bata India, paper and repurposing existing packaging have been the way to go. “At Bata, we sell nearly 47 million pairs of shoes every year. That can mean a lot of paper bags. We scaled our sustainability initiatives by encouraging consumers to get their own bags and rewarded them with loyalty points. In addition, we rolled out ‘green handles’, a Bata India innovation, which, when pasted to the shoebox in a store, can be converted into a smart carriable box. Such innovations have helped us drive a change in consumer mindset and in the process contribute to our sustainability initiatives of recycle, reuse and reduce.”

Reducing consumption

Then, there is the elephant in the room. The only real, truly sustainable way to consume – is to consume less. Naturally, this is at odds with a low-consumption philosophy for businesses whose ultimate goal is growth. However, SAP’s report cites Levi’s CEO, Chip Berg, whose brand tagline is ‘buy better, wear longer’. In an ideal world, this would mean high-quality products that are sustainably produced, merchandised, sold and transported with the lowest carbon footprint possible.

Amazon has been the target of environmentalists’ scorn in the past (notably a group of  employees who felt that carbon neutral by 2040 was not an ambitious enough timescale), but the company continutes to apply its innovation credentials to sustainability. In addition to launching its first sustainable fashion brand in March 2022, it also announced the creation of Amazon Aware, its own low carbon range of goods. Only products with carbon-neutral certifications and part of Amazon’s Climate Pledge Friendly programme can feature.

Compact by Design is one of its certifications, which identifies products with a more efficient design, removing excess air and water. All of which means they require less packaging and, at lower weights, lead to significant carbon emission reductions during shipping.

Perhaps now, in light of increasing Amazon commitments, more and more retailers will sit up and take notice.

Given the far-reaching nature of the conversation, it may seem to be an endless list of elements to consider. Still, those that demonstrate that they are beginning to grapple with the issue and take meaningful steps to address buyer concerns will stand out.

Download Retail Experiences of the Future, an SAP report in partnership with Econsultancy, or watch the accompanying webinar below