The Big Green Reset

What sustainability strategies mean today for the global convenience retail industry. 

November 02, 2020

By Chris Blasinsky

LONDON—As retailer leaders around the world continue to move forward, those who have a strong foundation are likely those who incorporate strategic sustainability goals in their business plans. While consumer behaviors may change, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to keep in mind that sustainability is not a reaction—it’s a journey.

Two recent Shop Talk Live events, hosted by Global Convenience Store Focus, delved into how global convenience retailers are evolving their sustainability efforts and responding to the needs of their employees and consumers.

Joining the conversation, Scot Case, sustainability expert and owner of @Responsible Sourcing Solutions, shared how resources like the NACS Sustainability Playbook can help retailers define sustainability and tell their stories in an authentic way.

Case noted that the pandemic has had a huge impact on sustainability, as consumers have become even more interested in how retailers are supporting their communities and taking care of their employees. While some sustainability initiatives like energy efficiency and water usage often take time to move the needle from an ROI perspective, consumers often latch on to certain sustainability initiatives very quickly. “You have to be ready to stay several steps ahead of them” he advised, noting that younger consumers want to spend money with companies that have a purpose.

In fact, Case has observed in researching content for the NACS Sustainability Playbook that sustainability efforts have become the “clean little secret” of the convenience world. “It’s time to tell the industry’s sustainability story because customers care,” he said, noting that if retailers don’t tell their story, someone else will tell it for them—and they may not like what’s said.

Companies that already have sustainability strategies in place are also able to pivot quicker when faced with adversities like a global pandemic, noted Case, because they’ve already been in a focus-on-the long-term mindset that accounts for the health and wellbeing of their people, the business and the environment.  

Locally Driven

Consumers today are all-in on supporting small and local businesses during the pandemic, per GlobalData research. However, as consumers say they want more “safe” packaging, there is a decrease in their interest for the more traditional sustainability attributes like “recycle,” “reuse” and “plastic-free.”

“This idea through the pandemic of how can I do good as a consumer has been pushing people down the route of thinking about locally-sourced, local businesses, supporting my community in a way that we haven’t see as significantly in the past,” said Mark Dempsey, consulting director of U.K.-based GlobalData.

These shifts in consumer mindsets for choosing products and services that provide comfort, health and wellness are global, but convenience retailers shouldn’t hit pause on their sustainability and ethics strategies, advised Dempsey, noting that the two combined are holding their own and will continue to be a driving force in the future.

“My biggest guideline to retailers and manufacturers is finding the right balance between sustainable and ethical themes, and comfort and health,” he said, which are behaviors that will largely be led by Gen Z consumers—the most sustainable-focused demographic. In fact, 87% of Gen Zs say they want companies to be transparent about which sustainability values they stand for, per GlobalData’s research.

“The winning operators over the course of the next year will be those that have made clear what they’re ethics are, how they’ve supported their local communities, how they’ve supported their staff and their customers…the ones who have really adapted and made clear what they stand for will be the ones that navigate this incredibly difficult time the best and will have the largest revenues to show for it,” Dempsey said.

Reducing CO2 Footprint

Maxol, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, is honoring this milestone by launching a Carbon Neutral Programme. Working with GreenPrint, Maxol’s new carbon offsetting program allows the retailer to have the first 100% carbon neutral fuel across the island of Ireland. For each liter of Maxol Premium fuel sold, the retailer will offset 100% of the carbon emissions from the consumer’s vehicle.

Brian Donaldson, CEO of The Maxol Group, noted that the company’s journey toward becoming a more environmentally sustainable company will not happen overnight, “but we are taking important steps to get there,” he said, adding, that Maxol Premium “is currently our best fuel option in terms of sustainability. We’re not saying that the greener option is carbon free, but it is more environmentally friendly, offers better fuel economy and has fewer pollutants.”

Another goal of Maxol’s Carbon Neutral Programme is to plant 10,000 trees across Ireland, a way that helps keep air clean as trees naturally absorb and permanently trap carbon dioxide.

For more insights, visit convenience.org/sustainabilityplaybook and catch up on all Shop Talk Live events at globalconveniencestorefocus.co.uk.

Retailers interested in sustainability at the NACS Crack the Code Experience, which launches today and runs through December 4, shouldn’t miss the education session “Profiting from Sustainability.” Register today to watch this session and find out how sustainability can benefit your company! 

Chris Blasinsky is the NACS content communications strategist; she can be reached at cblasinsky@convenience.org, and on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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