Modern Marketing Brand

Can tech help retail revive its green revolution?

By Chloe Johnson | Managing director

January 6, 2022 | 5 min read

As the CMA's Green Claims Code comes into effect, Simon Hathaway, managing director EMEA at retail technology agency Outform, beleives that tech is not being properly utilized to promote green alternatives.

The UK’s Competitions and Markets Authority’s (CMA) Green Claims Code came into force this month, aimed at ensuring all retail businesses, from fashion giants and supermarket chains to local shops, are transparent and open about the entire lifecycle of their products.

It’s an initiative with teeth - the CMA warned in September that it would crack down on anyone found to contravene the strict advertising guidance aimed at driving out ‘greenwashing’: false or exaggerated sustainability claims made by brands to boost sales.

Green retail

The Green Claims Code aims to help combat the growing tide of greenwashing

Whether you’re aware of the CMA guidelines or not, we all know that sustainability is mission-critical and increasingly important to sales. In fact, E.ON’s handy study found 80% of UK consumers plan to buy from businesses that have made efforts to be environmentally friendly.

That’s why so many retailers and brands, from Asos to Ikea to Selfridges, are going big on the narrative around sustainability. Asos' recycled tab gives shoppers a new stream that helps refine searches according to values, while Ikea’s ‘sustainable living’ set-up, a hub of its most sustainable products with eco-friendly tips, continues to command more floor space. And Lush is turning product packaging into shelving units, a prime model of a green cue that also considers its commitments to a circular economy.

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Yet, visiting stores over the festive break, what became apparent is that the traditional cues for green messaging - all that wood, raw edges, brown corrugate, and obviously recycled materials - are starting to become a bit of a cliche, especially when they’re used where they aren’t necessary and/or in excessive amounts.

Reinforcing the green narrative is all well and good - the use of materials and visual cues in-store is just as much part of the eco-action strategy as packaging, reusing bags, and making sure any product claims are transparent and true. It’s also an integral part of brand building and selling - the look and feel of a store, just like a product, should be an extension of sustainability purpose and policy.

Tech can help move beyond the cliche. I admit it’s not an obvious cue to sustainability, but it’s already helping to facilitate and change consumer behavior.

The Adidas Originals store in London’s Carnaby Street is just one case in point. Adidas uses screens and tech in this store and while I admit it’s not an obvious cue to sustainability, it is removing waste and simplifying operations.

Another case in point is Tesco’s integration of QR codes to help return discarded packaging. Taken one step further by combining the QR codes with AR could see the likes of pop-ups, which are often single-use and binned once a brand campaign ends, be swapped out with tech that will last longer and is reusable.

Similar techniques are starting to be adopted more widely in our industry as we work to define end-of-life solutions and head towards a future where circularity is baked into our designs. Certainly an increasing number of briefs now ask for sustainable solutions, some go as far as to spec material, (and when they don't, we’ll always offer a more sustainable alternative, despite the fact that when it comes to procurement KPIs, I am yet to see sustainability trump price).

Through a consumer lens though, people will soon start waking up to the visual green narratives in store. And like everything else around sustainability, they won’t bother to question that narrative; if it feels wrong or disingenuous, they’ll walk with their wallets. Through that lens, it wouldn’t be a bad thing at all if the CMA’s Green Claims Code was extended to cover fixtures and fittings in-store.

Simon Hathaway is managing director, EMEA at Outform.

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