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While there’s pessimism in the air with regards to global product sales, every day there are also groundbreaking changes being implemented by brands and activists.
While there’s pessimism in the air with regards to global product sales, every day there are also groundbreaking changes being implemented by brands and activists.

Winning with sustainability in retail


By Vanessa Hilton-Barber, Custodian of Content Architects - Apr 16th, 10:59

While there’s pessimism in the air with regards to global product sales, every day there are also groundbreaking changes being implemented by brands and activists who genuinely want to “be the change” when it comes to sustainability. Influencers and businesses are seeking to establish new markets through innovation, leveraging their ideas and products to help fight climate change. 

1) “Hyper-Compostable” Straws

“How you get sustainability solutions really adopted at scale has to do with not having massive consumer behaviour shift.” Daniela Saltzman, Loliware

There’s astute thinking in seaweed straw makers, Loliware’s philosophy of not requiring massive consumer behaviour change to become more sustainable. This makes sense as we want our products to be less environmentally toxic but very often not to the detriment of our creature comforts!

This adopting to scale thinking encouraged the start-up to put their 100% plant-based, hyper-compostable and marine degradable straws on the market. As Daniela Saltzman, their sustainability adviser points out, a disposable product that’s built to last for centuries - like a plastic straw - is counter-intuitive, but one that can be composted or safely biodegrades in the ocean is a winner.

The great news is after using a Loliware straw you can compost it in your garden, “or even eat it”. It is made of seaweed, gluten-free, sugar-free, non-GMO, with vegetable-based colours and “acts” like plastic in that it is durable (can withstand over 18 hours of continuous use). What’s not to love?

2) Vertical Vegetable Growing Cylinders

“Shops simply have no option but to inspire and delight customers - offering both fantastic products and personalised seamless experiences.” Peter Cross, Customer Experience Director at John Lewis & Partners

The UK Telegraph reports, “The end of the bagged salad could be nigh” as John Lewis supermarkets may soon have “living” vegetable aisles by the end of 2019. It is an inspiring direction, one South African supermarkets are sure to be watching closely.

It works by using aeroponic vertical vegetable growing cylinders in supermarkets, meaning customers can pick their own fresh salad. The company earmarked to do this for John Lewis is Let Us Grow, who’re passionate about ethical food and grow vegetables in aeroponic systems in disused railway tunnels in Bristol in the UK.

And what are Aeroponic systems? They’re soil-free, portable with plants are grown vertically, fed by a nutrient-rich mist with LED light, enabling the vegetation to photosynthesise and store energy. In South Africa, the “not just a worm farm” company GroPro sell small scale vertical gardens and we’ll be seeing a lot more of this on a big scale coming to a supermarket near you soon.

3) Say “No” to Toothpaste Boxes

“Every year 900 million useless toothpaste boxes are produced just in the United States. So the question is who can change this? Politicians? Corporations? Well, there is one place this is done differently – Iceland.” Alan’s Theory

On Alan’s Theory YouTube channel he asks the questions about products which we should be asking ourselves. He points out billions of toothpaste boxes are made for no real reason (other than aesthetics) and thrown away - but in the process “millions of trees are grown and billions of gallons of water are spent to grow them and turn them into boxes.”

In Iceland (the second most environmentally friendly country in the world) 90% of toothpaste tubes come without a box – because Icelandic people made a dramatic change in how they use and consume waste and put pressure on politicians and businesses to implement change. Inspiring stuff, start small, start where you can – as Alan says: “Sometimes it feels like we live in a society that is outside our control but the truth is, big changes start with ideas.”

4) Boardshorts from Plastic Bottles

“Every time you buy a pair of Billabong boardshorts you can happily know that you have helped take a few bottles out of the ocean and paid towards the recycling of plastic.” Aimee Pace

This is such a great brand move by the company Billabong which has a history of green innovation and the right consumer following to make this an important long term commitment. Back in 2007 Billabong was the first business to create boardshorts from recycled PET bottles (bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate). This is done by breaking down the recycled bottles into pellets which are manipulated into a yarn and woven into fabric.

Later in 2019, the company have pledged that all their boardshorts will be made from 100% recycled PET bottles only. As Cape Town etc reports, “This move is part of the company’s efforts to become more eco-friendly and address the plastic plague that is gripping our oceans worldwide.”

5) Micro Homes

“The target audience for the eco-capsule micro home is anyone who needs to remain in the outdoor nature for a long time. This includes scientists, researchers, bold tourists, photographers and camping lovers.” Bryan Groenendaal

The Ecocapsule micro home calls itself beautiful, smart, self-sustainable and is able to produce 750W of clean energy using the wind turbine and around 880W using the solar panels. It’s not cheap, but they do guarantee the cost of the capsule will lower as production increases in the future.

It’s not just start-ups who are innovating with micro homes; Walmart in partnership with Allswell has recently taken a beautiful small home on wheels on a trip from NYC to Seattle, “stopping at various sleep-deprived cities along the way”.

6) Community Conscious Chocolate

“One of the most important aspects of making a quality chocolate product is ensuring the wellbeing of the people who make the product, from our cocoa farmers to our associates in factories.” Leslie Philipsen, Brand Director, Dove Chocolate

Coinciding with International Women’s Month 2019, Dove Chocolate has opened a new marketplace in the village of Gueyo, in the cocoa fields of Cote d'Ivoire. This area will provide space for local women to sell their goods daily. This initiative has been done in partnership with CARE, a humanitarian organisation helping to address global poverty. Amazon Online are also involved and with every online purchase of Dove’s Chocolate Promises on their website US$5.00 will be donated to CARE.

It is exciting to see the way brands are pivoting or changing products to become more sustainable. These shifts lend themselves to a more holistic circular economy where we have a system committed to minimising waste and making the most of local resources.

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