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Earth Month Spotlight: Sustainability in Retail

Retailers are increasingly stepping up their sustainability initiatives related to store design, eco-friendly materials and energy conservation.

Retailers across the board are celebrating April as Earth Month, and highlighting their sustainability initiatives and goals.

The following is a sampling of some of the many sustainability initiatives being implemented by retailers.

Energy Conservation.  While reducing energy consumption is the top priority of many retailers’ sustainability goals, Starbucks Corp. has taken its commitment to a new level. Based on its partnership with World Wildlife Fund, the coffee giant created its Greener Stores Framework, a benchmark designed to accelerate the development of lower-impact stores.

These locations are committed to significantly reducing energy use, water usage and landfill waste. To date, these stores have reduced energy consumption by 30% compared with the company’s prior store designs.

Starbucks currently operates more than 2,300 sustainably-designed stores in the U.S. and Canada. The coffee giant plans to extend the model outside of North America to meet its goal of building and retrofitting 10,000 Greener Stores globally by 2025.

Chipotle Mexican Grill’s restaurants are also going green with an all-electric store design that maximizes energy efficiency across its equipment and systems. The company utilizes 100% renewable energy from wind power and solar through the purchase of certified renewable energy credits.

The store format is featured in its Gloucester, Va., and Jacksonville, Fla. locations, and will be applied to its new Castle Rock, Col. store set to open this summer. Throughout 2024, Chipotle plans to have more than 100 new locations utilize all-electric equipment and additional eco-friendly elements.

•Sustainable materials. More retailers are opting for environmentally-friendly materials in their new builds and remodels. Among the retailers making the commitment is sustainable footwear brand Allbirds.

Keeping in line with its eco-friendly focus, the retailer’s new 3,700 sq.ft. Boston location features natural materials storewide, including a custom New England-sourced service desk, and custom wood try-on chairs and displays.

H&M is also stepping up its commitment to sustainable store design in its upscale Cos banner. When the men’s and women’s fashion brand opens its first flagship store in Mexico this summer, the space will feature a new sustainable design concept that encompasses sustainable materials, including bamboo wardrobes, recycled acrylic vitrine display cases and a rail system made with recycled aluminum. The concept, which can be easily maintained, repaired and repurposed, is featured in three Cos locations.

H&M operates 264 Cos stores (including 12 in the U.S.) across 48 physical markets, with online markets and selected wholesale partners.

•Alternative building materials. Supply chain disruptions, materials shortages and a labor crisis continue to take a toll on development and sustainability goals. Thus, retailers are adopting alternative building materials to stay on track. One area of interest is metal materials. Besides being recyclable and conserving energy, metal can also help retailers keep a lid on construction costs.

For example, 90% of Costco warehouse stores are metal buildings. Among metal’s benefits are speed of construction, durability, attractive exterior finishes, innovative coating processes, and the ability to achieve a lightweight, strong structure, according to Ali Moayeri, senior VP of construction for Costco.

Meanwhile, Dior’s recent pop-up store in Dubai featured 3D eco-printed walls created with natural materials that combined clay, sand and raw fibers.

•Solar roofs. In their quest to leverage more renewable electricity sources, retailers are increasingly adopting solar rooftop panels. Companies from Kroger Co. to Ikea and McDonald’s to Chipotle are investing in solar panels, and some companies have already significantly reduced energy consumption.

The Home Depot for example, currently operates rooftop solar farms on more than 80 stores and electricity-generating fuel cells in more than 200 stores. Since 2010, the company has reduced electricity consumption in its U.S. stores by 50%. The effort coincides with The Home Depot’s goal to produce or procure 100% renewable electricity for all of its facilities’ electricity needs for by 2030.

Meanwhile, Lowe’s Cos. is installing rooftop solar panels at stores and distribution centers across the country. Coinciding with its goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the home improvement giant is implementing rooftop solar panels at 174 store and distribution center locations nationwide. Lowe’s expects the panels to provide approximately 90% of the energy usage at each location.

Finally, more retailers are blazing their personal journeys toward decarbonization. In 2021, more than 65 global retailers set science-based targets to reduce carbon emissions, and that number more than doubles each year, according to McKinsey’s report, “Climate Sustainability in Retail: Who Will Pay?” 

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