Convenience Retail’s ‘Clean Little Secret’

By Scot Case   read

More retailers are focusing on sustainability for practical business reasons, not just because some may consider it the right thing to do.

March 10, 2020


It turns out that the convenience retail industry has a secret, a “clean little secret.”

Some NACS members are doing more sustainability work—focused on people, planet and prosperity—than some of the well-known companies in other industries that heavily promote their sustainability credentials.

Quick-service restaurants, gourmet coffee shops, grocery chains and mass-market retailers proudly proclaim their efforts to protect the climate, reduce pollution and empower individuals and communities. Digging into their sustainability claims, most of their efforts are savvy business decisions that lower operating costs by reducing energy and water use and by decreasing the amount of trash they generate.

NACS members are just as aggressive about lowering operating costs because it improves profits. They are installing more energy efficient lighting and refrigeration cases. They are finding ways to reduce trash by recycling and composting. They are reducing water use with water-efficient landscape irrigation systems and car washes. Some have even found cost savings by installing solar panels.

“All we’re doing is pursuing cost savings and, as a result, we’ve probably done more ‘sustainability stuff’ than some of our competitors,” explained a senior convenience store executive at a recent NACS meeting.

Increasing profits by decreasing costs is an important part of any sustainability strategy, but it’s leaving out an important element: talking about what you’re doing.

Companies in other sectors, along with a few in convenience retail, have learned that talking about the sustainability benefits that they are creating can increase sales. It attracts new and repeat customers who spend more money. It can also help attract and retain higher-quality employees.
One convenience chain conducted a survey revealing that 68% of regional customers would visit more frequently if they marketed themselves as a more sustainable company. Other surveys show that almost 75% of employees prefer to work for a company with a “green footprint” and half of those claim that they would work for less money.

People want to buy from and work for companies that care about people, the planet and prosperity—known as the triple bottom line. Those benefits only emerge, however, when companies take the time to recognize that they have a sustainability story to share. Once they understand the story, they must become comfortable sharing it both internally and externally.

There are plenty of executives within the convenience retail industry, primarily millennial executives, who already see the connection between efforts to reduce operational costs and a broader and potentially powerful sustainability story. Combined with efforts to sell healthier products and to donate any excess food to those in need, c-stores have a sustainability story that executives and front-line employees can embrace. It aligns with their personal commitments to make their communities and the world a better place. It’s not just about increasing profits for them—it’s about making a positive difference.

Unleashing their creative energy and passion to find other profitable ways to improve c-store sustainability and sharing it with customers can create new business opportunities and generate significant customer and employee loyalty.

Maybe it’s time for NACS members to share their “clean little secret” with the world.

Scot Case has been helping companies find profitable ways to embrace sustainability for 25-plus years. He is currently supporting the development of a NACS sustainability toolkit and can be reached at