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10 questions landlords should be asking about sustainability

by Tracey Pollard


"A brand with sustainability credibility is likely to be the strong covenant of the future"

A recent study by Retail Week revealed that 62% of consumers say it is important to shop with brands with sustainable credentials. With younger generations particularly, and rightfully, gripped by the ‘climate crisis’, this proportion is only set to increase. Accordingly, if landlords wish to ensure their retail destinations remain relevant to consumers, attention to sustainability is integral to future-proofing.

In simple terms, a brand with strong sustainability credibility is likely to become the strong covenant of the future. However, whilst brands are very good at telling us the stories they want you to hear, making tokenistic efforts at reducing packaging for example; establishing how sustainable they genuinely are remains a challenge. So, what questions can landlords be asking when meeting prospective occupiers?

  1. Where is production?
    If goods are imported, do they have certificates on fair-trade practice? Whether ensuring fair wages are paid, or ingredients are purchased ethically from third party sources, this standard encompasses a range of sustainability efforts.
  2. How are products packaged?
    Retailers should have recyclable, biodegradable packaging or, better still, none at all. Lush are at the forefront of this: nearly half their products can be taken home with no packaging. They save 6m plastic bottles globally just through selling shampoo in bars.
  3. How transparent is the supply chain?
    How strong are their relationships with suppliers, particularly if they source product overseas? Can they demonstrate their suppliers uphold the same standards they purport to?
  4. What about the shop fit?
    There are many innovations in sustainable shop fit. The Body Shop’s new fit out includes worktop surfaces made from EKOply – a recycled plastic plywood alternative and Fig & Squash at New Street Square uses recycled Corten floor and a recycled plastic installation ceiling to achieve a 95% sustainably sourced fit out. Also ask, how often they plan to refurbishment and what will happen to the surplus fit out? Traditional redecoration covenants may need to be reconsidered.
  5. What materials are used in clothes production?
    Are the materials used organic, biodegradable, virgin or ethical? Do they use processing chemicals, bleaches, or dyes? Designer brand Stella McCartney has progressively limited materials which contravene their ethical standards including feathers, furs and PVC and instead are using organic cottons, biodegradable shoe soles and recycled polyester.
  6. What happens to unsold product?
    Excessive consumption in the UK led to 300,000 tonnes of waste clothing dumped in landfill last year. Brands like M&S, John Lewis and H&M are great at taking back old clothes but also encouraging repair and reuse. Food waste can be donated to schemes such as ‘FareShare’ or distributed through apps like ‘Too Good To Go’.
  7. What are their cosmetics made from?
    Consumers are increasingly aware of environmental issues from pesticides and agricultural practices. Look for certifications of organic products like Cosmos or Natrue. Ask about their use of palm oil which is contributing to mass deforestation of tropical rainforest and against which there is a growing consumer backlash. Brands sourcing palm oil ethically and sustainably are given the RSPO certification.
  8. How do they refrigerate?
    Natural refrigerants and energy efficient solutions are available. For example, Sainsburys have trialled a CO2 based refrigerant which is derived from waste sugar beet.
  9. Where is food sourced?
    Air freighted food emits up to 30 times more greenhouse gases compared to that shipped by boat. A strong UK- based supply chain with menus that focus on seasonality, allows for the reduction in food miles and an ever- changing offer.
  10. And what else…?
    We anticipate a basic level of sustainable retailing to soon become the norm so brands will need to work harder to stand out in their marketplace and attract customers. Outdoor brand Filson offer water refills in store and Patagonia’s Worn Wear programme allows you to repair, share or recycle your gear. What is your brand doing to drive footfall to their stores through pursuit of the sustainably minded consumer?
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