Sustainability: the big changes you’d least expect

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To say that sustainability is a hot topic is an understatement – today we’re all aware of the  effects of climate change and plastic waste.

But while more of us are trying to make better choices in an effort to save the planet, it can feel as if anything we do as individuals is just a drop in the ocean. Increasingly, we’re looking to the brands we buy to lead the way and help us to live more sustainably.

The question is, can brands react fast enough and radically enough to keep up with their increasingly eco-conscious customers?

For inspiration, we take a look at the most unlikely brands making transformative efforts to become more sustainable
– because if these brands can do it, anyone can.

The local take-away turned vegan

Vegans are on the rise (in the UK there has been a 350% increase since 2006, according to the Vegan Society). This is largely due to environmental concerns, prompted by recent studies that suggest going vegan is the most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint.

While many supermarkets and food brands are catering to vegans with new products and ranges, we love the story of small, family-run business Sutton & Sons, who have taken a more radical approach.

The owners have been running traditional fish and chip shops in London for over 20 years but as customer lifestyles have changed, they’ve changed too. In response to a local demand for vegan food, Sutton & Sons made their Hackney branch completely vegan, offering seaweed-marinated banana blossom instead of fish, and ‘prawn’ tempura made from potatoes.

Honourable mention: Greggs

Selling out as soon as it launched, the Greggs vegan sausage roll caused quite a stir earlier this year. Although only a single product, it did much to promote veganism in the mainstream, breaking down stereotypes of ‘sanctimonious vegans’ by proving that they like cheap, greasy baked goods as much as the next British person.

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The fashion icon saving water

Levi’s is synonymous with timeless jeans built to last. But in the wake of high profile documentaries about the impact of denim manufacturing, the iconic brand has been compelled to boost its green credentials.

By innovating new production techniques that use less water, Levi’s has saved 1.8 billion litres of water and recycled more than 129 million litres. Plus, it shouts this message loud and clear (in the recent BBC documentary ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’, Levi’s was the only brand willing to speak in front of the camera), highlighting itself as a leader in sustainability and proving that it can be a sustainable option for customers.

Honourable mention: H&M

H&M might be one of the world’s biggest fast fashion retailers, but it’s showing a growing awareness of sustainability: 57% of all its materials are now recycled or sustainably sourced and the plan is to make this 100% by 2030.

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The plastic product going eco friendly

As a controversial plastic product, water bottles are second only to straws, and they could soon become more socially unacceptable than tobacco plastic bottles bans are being introduced everywhere from American universities to Glastonbury festival.

Evian has reacted by promising to use 100% recyclable plastic by 2020. It’s an ambitious target (set in 2018), but Evian needs to be ambitious if it is to justify its product in an increasingly plastic-free world.

To this end, Evian has tapped innovative designer/entrepreneur Virgil Abloh to be its Creative Director and together they have launched a limited edition, refillable glass bottle. With more ‘stylish and collectable items’ in the pipeline, it looks as though Evian is preparing itself for a future where plastic bottles bans are the norm.

Honourable mention: Lego

The most beloved plastic-centric brand in the world says that the majority of its toys and packaging will be made from sustainable materials by 2030. Lego has also launched a range of toys made from sugar-cane, and switched all its energy to renewable sources.

The new radicals

Sustainability is no longer the remit of brands known for their ethical credentials. As the examples above show, all kinds of brands are able to take a radical approach – and soon, as the effects of climate change become even more tangible, anxious consumers will expect nothing less.

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Sean Dwyer

VM & Design Show 2019: Innovating in store messaging

Plastic fantastic

This year at the VM & Design Show, we were on the lookout for materials and tech that could be used to innovative in-store messaging. Because as much we love great design, if it’s not saying anything, it’s not adding value for customers.

From foam words to submerged letters, we went away with more than a few ideas about getting our message across. Take a look at what we found…

Plastic fantastic

In store, 3D design often serves a novelty purpose, but Floreeda’s clever use of coloured plastic and LED lights gave us a new perspective. It’s a fresh way of establishing messaging hierarchy, giving designers more to play with than weight and 2D placement.

We also loved Floreeda’s plastic letters submerged in trickling water, which reminded us that words aren’t the only way to communicate a message. Why use words to say that a product is waterproof, or refreshing, when you could just submerge it in water instead? Customers will get it instantly.

It’s worth noting that Floreeda use a recycled acrylic called Greencast, so it’s suitable for retailers trying to be more sustainable.

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Digital in motion

If real water isn’t your thing, you could always cheat – we loved the realism of Alchemy’s digital displays.

Whereas flashy, fast-moving digital can often be distracting in a retail environment, Alchemy’s transparent displays (which tricked us into thinking we were looking at real water, just for a moment) were eye-catching but not overwhelmingly so.

It’s a great example of disruptive tech that doesn’t disrupt the shopper from their mission; in store, we’d be a captive audience for any messages floating across these screens.

Playing with words

Foam letters are often used at retail events to spell out hashtags, or event names. But when we saw Cutfoam’s laser-cut foam work, we instantly thought of in-store messaging. Light and easy to move around, the foam letters could be used by retailers to constantly switch up their store, both as on-brand messages and as helpful navigation.

As an added bonus, it can all be recycled; Cutfoam will collect and upcycle pieces when they’re no longer needed. Fun, portable and green: what’s not to like?

VM and Design Show

Multidimensional messaging

Our main takeaway from the VM & Display show? Retail is a 3D environment, so messaging shouldn’t be confined to 2D. Forget bold fonts – how about highlighting messages kinetically and tangibly, with moving water? And instead of functional navigation, why not make it fun, Instagrammable and memorable?

Some retailers are already well known for doing all this, but with so much exciting tech now more accessible than ever, smaller retailers (with smaller budgets) can afford to think outside the box too.

While it’s always important to get the messaging right, sometimes it’s not just what you say that matters, it’s the way you say it.

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Sean Dwyer

Catering to cash-poor millennials

When retailers announce profit warnings or store closures, it’s often millennials who get the blame: ‘They value experiences over possessions’, ‘They spend all their money on avocados’ etc. In fact, millennials do want to buy things with their money – they just don’t have a lot it, enduring higher living costs, lower wages and worse job prospects than older generations did at the same age.

Considering that millennials will soon have the lion’s share of global spending power (over $20 trillion by 2020), it’s not surprising that brands are future-proofing by making themselves more accessible. We take a look at the big brands doing just that, and the game-changing companies helping them do it.

Try-before-you-buy
There’s been a lot of press about influencers returning clothes after wearing them once, but for the majority of shoppers, sending back unwanted purchases and waiting for the refund to hit their bank account is a major barrier to purchase.

Retailers have responded with try-before-you-buy services, allowing shoppers to order as much as they want and only pay for what they keep. Some brands, like Amazon and Alibaba’s Tmall, have developed their own services, while many more are working with third parties (of which Klarna is the most prolific, recently launching a high-profile B2C campaign).

You could argue that try-before-you-buy is the antithesis to sustainable shopping, decreasing the value of clothing and encouraging over-consumption. But as long as retailers adjust (not reordering stock until it has been paid for etc.), we think it will make shopping more sustainable; if people are 100% happy with everything they buy, surely they’ll send less clothes to landfill?

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Slicing up payments
Digital-first companies like Afterpay, Splitit and Klarna (as mentioned above) allow users to pay in instalments for everything from fashion to tech. While catalogues have been used to spread the cost of shopping for decades, these new companies enable people to pay in instalments wherever and whenever they shop.

Partnering with big brands, these companies offer an alternative payment method at checkout, mainly online but increasingly in store too. Shoppers pay the first instalment and the item is delivered/taken home as normal, then there are three more instalments to pay (all interest-free, if paid on time).

There are ethical implications to making debt so readily available to young consumers, but it’s no different to offering customers store cards with large credit limits. We think this type of payment will gain traction throughout retail and beyond – in Nordic countries for example, Klarna is already being used to pay dentists, plumbers and mechanics.

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Leasing life
While it’s commonplace to rent homes, phones and cars, there’s huge potential in new rental markets like homeware and clothes. Why splash out on a new holiday wardrobe, for example, when you could rent the whole thing upon arrival? It’s already possible to lease luggage; why not go the whole hog and borrow a suitcase filled with clothes too? (Or better yet, get it dropped off at your destination and fly baggage-free.)

Millennials could soon be leasing furniture too, if Ikea’s new initiative takes off. The furniture giant has announced plans to lease kitchens, which it hopes will evolve into a scaleable subscription service.

This would be great for millennials, or ‘Generation Rent’, who are less likely to own a home and put down roots. It could help to make a rented flat feel like a home, and allow people to recreate their dream home décor, without having to pay for it all outright.

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Time to open up
Brands need to make themselves more accessible, either with subtle improvements (for example, online stores could pay refunds quickly, and run a pop-up to give customers an idea of fit and fabric) or with a more radical approach, Ikea-style.

Because in 2019, it’s not enough to assume that cash-strapped consumers want the cheapest product. Millennials are picky about what they spend their hard-earned money on; if they’re going to buy into a brand, they need to be confident that it’s worth their money – and that’s not going to happen if they can’t access the brand in the first place.

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Sean Dwyer

Just how radical is Natoora’s ‘radical seasonality’?

The opening of London’s second Natoora fruit and veg branch got us thinking about the seasonal retail model… and how to freshen up the concept of sustainability.

If we’re all completely honest, do we really know which fruit and veg are in season, and which aren’t? Asparagus in April? Courgettes at Christmas? The truth is that we’re all so used to getting what we want, whenever we want it – we’ve lost touch with the way produce is grown and sourced. And in this ever more environmentally conscious era, it’s an issue that’s not going away.Natoora2

A new way to shop
Enter Natoora. This growing brand is looking to change the way we shop for fresh produce. Now in three upmarket areas of London, Fulham, Chiswick and Chelsea (as well as supplying some of the UK’s top chefs and hosting concessions in six Waitrose branches), they’re on a mission to replace what the founders see as a broken, opaque food system. Natoora’s answer? A transparent and completely sustainable supply chain, using a rotation of small-scale suppliers, and only stocking seasonal produce.

Back to (revolutionary) basics
With the clever positioning of ‘Radical Seasonality’, Natoora is putting the focus back onto the true costs of farming. They invite their customers to stop thinking of four seasons, and recognise only three: early, peak and late. We love the revolutionary feel of this; while other brands are built on sustainability models, Natoora really owns it; they live and breathe it, right through to the shopping experience. Its stores, for example, showcase the fruit and veg in a way that feels exciting and new. Clean lines and geometric concrete-style architecture put the produce centre stage – the starkness of the grey highlighting the bright colours of the fruit and veg.Natoora3

Intelligent spot-lighting adds theatre, making each piece feel like a true work of art. Natoora’s ethos is to highlight the craftsmanship that goes into growing and farming – and this couldn’t be more evident in the stores, with provenance maps and stories (including info on how it shouldn’t be done) sitting alongside much of the produce.

Keeping it fresh and real
Perfection isn’t the aim here. There’s no plastic packaging keeping everything uniform, produce is haphazardly arranged, and there are slight imperfections on pieces of fruit and veg. Everything is there to remind you that these are natural products, supplied by small-scale suppliers.

So even if the concept of seasonality isn’t entirely radical in itself, the way Natoora presents it feels fresh and new. And in today’s busy commercial sustainability landscape, that’s a great thing for a brand.

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Sean Dwyer

New Ikea Store: The Future of Retail?

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When we heard Ikea was opening its first full-size London store in 13 years, and that it would be the most sustainable Ikea store in the UK, we knew we had to check it out.

It sounded so optimistic and forward-thinking – a shining example of circular retail, with sustainability workshops for customers and eco friendly tech like solar panels, geothermal heating and a rainwater harvesting system.

But would it live up to the hype?

First impressions

Instead of the usual ‘big blue box’ store style, Ikea has incorporated its circular retail philosophy into the design, with a storefront of natural wood and glass, letting lots of light into the bright, airy entrance.

As soon as we walked in, a member of staff greeted us and pointed us in the right direction. Maybe we’re biased because we visited on the first sunny day of 2019, but the sun-filled space felt welcoming and uplifting – a great first impression.

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Storytelling

The PR emphasis on sustainability was echoed in store, with multiple messages projected on to walls, playing on the TVs in showrooms and hanging between products on cardboard signs.

Initially, these sustainability messages were generically inspirational e.g. ‘Find the value in waste’. But as we progressed through the showrooms towards the more trade-focused sections, it became clear that Ikea has a lot to say about sustainability.

We noticed informative displays throughout the store, highlighting Ikea’s eco friendly credentials like using recycled glass and only selling LED lighting. After a while, these displays lost their impact slightly (we didn’t see any other shoppers stopping for a closer look) but we were left with the overall impression that Ikea is, and has been for a long time, working hard to be more environmentally friendly.

We wonder if these displays would be more effective if they had an interactive element, for example letting customers touch the fluffy cotton bolls or interact with the LED light bulb display.

More impactful was a walk-through installation about upcycling, with colourful, creative products. We loved the distinctive tone of voice and typography, which were livelier and more engaging here than elsewhere in the store. It was a great example of circular retail, inspiring customers to reuse Ikea products.

Shopper experience

While Ikea has played up the sustainability factor with nature-inspired design and bold storytelling, this never gets in the way of the customer experience.

The whole store is geared towards navigation and conversion: plenty of visible, helpful staff; incredibly detailed, immersive showrooms; and touchscreens where customers can customise products, check on stock and sign up to the loyalty program.

The beginning of our journey was as inspiring as we’d hoped. But as we wandered further into the depths of the store, the magic rubbed off slightly – not all the tech worked, for example, and we felt a bit lost in the cold, cavernous warehouse.

And then we got to the tills.

One of the self-service sections was out of order, and there were long queues wherever we looked. Thanks to a problem at the till (we weren’t told what it was), our queue didn’t move for almost ten minutes.ikea_3

It felt like our journey had ended on a flat note. The queuing experience was frustrating, and the exit wasn’t as pleasant as the entrance (although there was a nice goodbye message, telling us about events Ikea is running in the area).

But while we waited at the bus stop across the road (it’s just a ten-minute bus ride to North Greenwich tube station), we realised that, overall, it is a great store. Even from outside, it looks bright and inviting. With all the natural wood, and the abundance of greenery seen through the glass, it feels like a store in harmony with its surroundings.

While not quite the ‘future of retail’ we had been hoping for, it’s an inspiring, contemporary retail experience from start to almost finish – if only those self-service tills had been working…

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Sean Dwyer

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