Irish Examiner Sustainability Month special: Are retailers meeting customer expectations for sustainable products?

As we grow more environmentally aware, retailers are appearing to make greater strides towards meeting customer expectations for sustainable products while offering value for money, writes Carol O’Callaghan

Buy less and buy better might be the guiding principle for shopping in a sustainable way, but does it necessarily mean we have to avoid the high street, suburban superstores, and a wash of online retailers, believing them to be scant on sustainability credentials?

Rebecca Winckworth, co-founder of White & Green, an Irish family-run business selling organic bed and bath linens online, has extended its commitment to sustainability beyond the making of the products it sells, to the entire production of packaging and getting the goods to the customer.

“Our biggest achievement this year is the removal of all plastic packaging from our full product range,” she says.

“Most products that you see in a shop appear plastic-free but they most likely arrived from factories in individually wrapped plastic. We are trying to also remove plastic from our delivery service.

Right now, most courier deliveries come in plastic mailer bags and this is obviously unsustainable. We are experimenting with reusable mailer bags and cardboard boxes which seal without the need for a bag

Her advice to consumers for any type of purchase is: “Stop buying so much stuff. Invest in good quality, long-lasting pieces rather than disposable fashion, and invest in local producers.

“If you have to buy, buy organic so that you know your purchase is not damaging the environment. Look for Fairtrade certification, it’s an amazing international organisation carrying out life-changing work with producers.”

H&M’s Conscious collection of homewares is a response to customer demand for more sustainable products, according to Camilla Henriksson, head of marketing and communication at H&M HOME.

“We believe that transparency drives accountability and therefore progress.

“Where we can, we work with sustainably sourced materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester and recycled cotton and recycled denim in our H&M HOME collections. We recently launched a new product transparency layer at hm.com/home that allows customers to see the country and even the exact factory that an item was produced in,” she says.

The launch of Conscious offers a distinct identity for the sustainable collection and without the higher price point consumers might anticipate when it comes to buying with sustainability in mind.

“We don’t believe that it should cost the consumer more to buy something that has been made responsibly,” Camilla adds. “How the price and design is affected is all about the product itself and materials.

“In our furniture collections, for example, we work with as few materials as possible in our designs to make it easier to recycle if needed. We are happy to add that by 2020 we will meet our goal for 100% of the cotton used across H&M and H&M HOME collections to come from recycled or sustainable sources, such as organic or BCI cotton. We’re already at over 90% which is exciting.”

IKEA’s efforts are also responding to their customers’ increased awareness.

They are more conscious of the impact they have on the planet and are searching for ideas, products and solutions to help them live more sustainably in an accessible and affordable way

- explains Eleanor Murphy, IKEA, Ireland.

“We aim to use renewable and recycled resources as efficiently as possible, to make sure that we create value rather than waste. We’re prolonging the life of products and materials and using resources in a smarter way. The PLATSA storage system was designed with this in mind so that it grows and adapts to support customers as their needs change.

“We’re taking the lead in transforming secondary materials into clean and safe resources. Our KUNGSBACKA kitchen, TOFTLUND rug and ODGER chair are just some examples of products created using recycled PET bottles, and we’re establishing and promoting systems and services to enable a circular economy. During 2020 IKEA will test furniture leasing in 30 markets.”


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