#Climate #retail Sustainability

We ask marketers: How can retail be made more sustainable, really?


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

May 20, 2024 | 10 min read

Ahead of The Drum’s retail focus, next week, we ask top marketers which retail innovations can really make a dent on that industry’s sustainability difficulties.

A dump of packaging by the sea

Retail's well-known sustainability problem: Is it fixable? / Antoine Giret via Unsplash

Mark your calendars: on Monday, May 27 we’ll begin a week of expert analysis of retail in 2024.

As an amuse-bouche, we thought we’d tackle one of the retail business’s existential challenges head-on: how to make an industry predicated on consumption and used to a (to put it lightly) carbon-intensive paradigm sustainable.

Of course, there’s been plenty of thinking and writing about sustainability in retail in recent years, and a few glittering success stories like the inevitably-always-mentioned Patagonia. But where else are actual, tangible differences being made? We asked leading marketers from The Drum Network for their sources of inspiration.

Tom Firth, chief executive officer, M&C Saatchi Life: “Less plastics, lower emissions, new circular business models: it’s all great to see. But given the scale and systemic nature of the issues we’re dealing with, it’s very optimistic to expect meaningful large-scale change to come on the back of individual brands, and their individual campaigns. If we really want to shift the dial, it’s time for sector-wide campaigning. Think ‘Slam in the Lamb’ or ‘Got Milk?’ but for lower-impact, transition-focused sectors. Imagine if brands in pre-loved and rental fashion collaborated to celebrate the sheer freedom of being able to mix things up without messing up the planet. Or if the automotive sector came together to run one industry-wide campaign tackling range anxiety. By pooling insights and resources these bigger, collective campaigns will be more likely to create major cultural shifts in attitude and behavior, while growing revenues for the whole sector. This collaboration already happens behind the scenes in sustainability. Companies are forming partnerships on supply chains and making shared commitments to certain standards. But it hasn’t yet crossed over into communications. Now is the time.”

Powered by AI

Explore frequently asked questions

Jason Cotterill, e-commerce lead, Space & Time: “We are now dealing with a consumer that in one breath states how important sustainable products and packaging are to them, but also then contributes to the massive compound annual growth rate of 15.5% expected in the fast fashion market (which we know has awful repercussions for the environment). The swift growth in Vinted shows the powerful combination of dopamine generation from scoring a bargain plus making a better choice for the environment: a nice middle ground between sustainability and fast fashion. I want to see brands promoting pre-loved fashion where possible before a nice-to-have sustainable tick box becomes an environmental necessity.”

Amy Gilfeather, strategist, DesignWerk: “‘20% less plastic’ this and ‘made from recycled plastic’ that: until recently, everything in my bathroom looked, walked and quacked like a plastic duck, despite the greenwashing. But I recently discovered deodorant brand Wild, which has created the first 100% plastic-free, compostable shower gel bottle. Apparently, it took years of experimentation, but my bamboo-derived bottle is capable of securely holding liquid without compromising the product – and it breaks down faster than a banana peel. The breakthrough technology could have huge potential in packaging for cosmetics and wider retail alike. It poses an interesting question: if a disruptive company with comparatively little resources can achieve this, what on this climate-changing earth are the retail giants doing with their time, and profit?”

Juliette Child, senior sustainability strategist, Radley Yeldar: “When it comes to sustainability, we’re in a dire situation and have reached many points of no return. We’ve all heard that. Yet many will be surprised to see that when it comes to corporate strategy and reporting we’re still failing to consider planetary thresholds and social limits. In other words, we’re still focusing on incremental improvements that fail to take into consideration the world that we live in. This is where the Sustainable Development Performance Indicators (SDPIs) coming in –launched last year and in need of more praise and attention. Adopting them will help us understand whether a company’s reported progress actually falls within safe social and environmental thresholds. For example, has a retailer that reports a reduction in water use really reduced it enough in the context of local water availability where it operates? This could be a step change if adopted across all industries, including retail.”

Duncan Birch, business director, Dept UK: “As one of the largest contributors to pollution, the fashion industry is facing scrutiny, leading consumers to reconsider their relationship with fast fashion. This has resulted in second-hand clothing shedding its stigma, and is now seen as offering more value, being cooler, and also kinder to the environment. To drive significant change, we need a cultural shift, encouraging people to adopt a one-in-one-out policy with their wardrobes. This promotes a more sustainable and circular fashion economy, moving away from fast fashion. Brands have an opportunity to support this behavioral shift and promote a more conscious and sustainable approach to fashion. Ebay has taken stock of this and is driving change: updating its business model to offer free listings for clothing sellers and becoming the lead sponsor of Love Island.”

Jennifer Olliges, senior vice president, commerce lead, Momentum Worldwide: “2025 appears to be the year most CPG brands will be transforming toward sustainable packaging solutions. Companies like P&G, Nestlé, Danone, Coca-Cola, Unilever, and Kellogg’s are leading the charge by committing to making their materials recyclable, reusable, or compostable, aligning with global sustainability goals. They are not just looking into their packaging but also investing in research and development to innovate new materials, such as plant-based plastics and biodegradable alternatives, while also focusing on increasing the use of recycled content to optimize materials and minimize waste. By prioritizing these initiatives, they not only reduce their environmental footprint but (possibly most importantly) respond to a consumer demand for more eco-friendly products, ultimately driving a positive change in the industry.”

Megan Gibson, paid media director, AgencyUK: “What will make a difference is if more brands consciously ensure their creative assets reflect the climate reality of today and show sustainable behaviors – by, for example, using reusable shopping bags, or showing plant-based alternatives. Or being sensitive to consumers’ worries about the cost of living and focusing on value for money. Encouraging these behaviors in your advertising could change how consumers shop with you, thus affecting the whole retail cycle. The more we see these behaviors shown, the more front-of-mind they will become for consumers and advertisers alike.”

Emma Cartwright, marketing manager, The Fifth: “Since the pandemic, dog ownership has surged, driven by flexible working arrangements that make pet care easier. As society becomes more sustainability-focused, there’s a rising demand for eco-friendly dog products. Many owners are investing in high-quality, sustainable items to ensure their dogs’ well-being. Supporting local businesses has also influenced purchasing decisions, with consumers preferring locally sourced, sustainable goods. This trend is visible in the growing number of social media accounts showcasing pets and pet products, where owners share their eco-friendly choices. Natural ingredients in dog food and treats are becoming popular, reflecting a broader emphasis on health and sustainability. The rise of direct-to-consumer business models on social media has enabled small, sustainable pet supply companies to thrive. The convergence of increased dog ownership, sustainability, local business support, and social media influence has created a booming market for sustainable dog supplies, highlighting a commitment to pet welfare and environmental responsibility.”

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

#Climate #retail Sustainability

Content created with:


We built the agency with one clear mission: to do things differently.

The agency was founded on a mutual understanding of what it means to have real influence...

Find out more


We’re an independent brand communications agency voted Ad Agency of The Year 2019 and Brand Strategy Agency of the Year 2020 by Drum Recommends. Our services span...

Find out more

Momentum Worldwide

Momentum Worldwide has a proud history of creating industry-first experiences that authentically place brands in the cultural conversation. 1,000+ individuals across...

Find out more


DEPT® is a pioneering technology and marketing services company that creates end-to-end digital experiences for brands such as Google, KFC, Philips, Audi, Twitch,...

Find out more

Radley Yeldar

Radley Yeldar is an award-winning, independent, London and Birmingham-based creative consultancy. Our 200-strong team of specialists has been helping to create a...

Find out more


Delivering game-changing 360 brand experiences to the sports, entertainment and lifestyle sectors for over 20 years, we are a defiantly independent, award-winning...

Find out more

Space & Time

Space & Time is a growth marketing agency, enabling clients to secure optimal value from every part of the customer experience and their marketing investment....

Find out more

M&C Saatchi Group

We are a creative company with five specialist Divisions, connected through data, technology and culture, to deliver Meaningful Change for clients.

Find out more

More from #Climate

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +