Mel's Musings: 13 May 2019

    By Mel Galliwade, Mel Galliwade is a user researcher and culture lead attached to our London office.

    Mel Galliwade

    Are customers beginning to realise that they’re the missing sustainability link? Throughout April, Greta Thunberg caused a ‘non-violent’ riot by educating politicians, retailers and customers about our impacts on climate change. Combining this with Fashion Revolution week marking the 6th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, and throughout these last two weeks we’ve seen a growing number of retailers hitting the headlines with their sustainability initiatives, both in fashion and grocery.

    Taking a quick win, Asos has now ensured conscious consumerism is available to all. However, this isn’t through investment in their own products, but by using their already successful platform to host charity boutiques. Click onto the marketplace, and you can choose to buy your vintage goods from Oxfam Festival Shop, Barnardo’s and Traid with prices ranging from £12-£350. Whilst a brilliant opportunity for these retailers to activate their brands by showcasing their clothes and driving customer awareness and engagement, for me Asos is just a paragraph short of turning a brilliant initiative into customer education around the benefits of second-hand fashion in retail to an already captive audience. Having said that, kudos to them for their collaboration. I’m excited to see how this will evolve into both their marketplace, and hopefully more of their products.

    At the other end of the customer spectrum, FarFetch has launched a “second life” platform for the resale of luxury bags as part of their sustainability initiative. Customers can sell bags in exchange for credit equivalent to the agreed value of the bag. This has undoubtedly been a huge task to undertake, ensuring the designer bags would be valued at a fair price as an incentive for customers to participate. But the cynic in me still questions if there is an element of green washing here. If FarFetch was investing in this initiative as the right thing to do, they would only make the credits available to use on second life, not their main website. Otherwise, they are still enabling customers ‘fast-fashion’ behaviours whilst creating a loyalty scheme under the guise of sustainability.

    But it’s not just sustainable fashion in the headlines. With 81% of shoppers in Europe considering food waste their second biggest worry after plastic, the government has encouraged supermarkets to sign a pledge to halve this by 2030. Those that sign up can then apply for funding from the £6 million scheme, which will support them in hitting their targets. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose are amongst the 300 to have already signed up, and Tesco is well on its way, having reported a 17% reduction in food waste already. This is a brilliant initiative that gives grocers a chance to really put their money where their mouth is. Those that succeed will really differentiate themselves - Tesco is looking to be a front runner.

    Co-op understands that customers can’t just shake their convenience habits - even with a 5p carrier bag charge and the best will in the world, there will always be the inevitable last-minute dinner purchase that requires a single-use carrier bag. Co-op is the first grocer to introduce a compostable carrier bag made of corn in its South England stores. This way customers can still get their last-minute stir-frys and be confident that their carrier bags won’t end up in landfill. Although these are only compostable under certain conditions, it is still an innovative step in the right direction.

    If you’ve enjoyed this article, look out for our report ‘You, Me and Sustainability’ released on 5th June (World Environment Day). We discuss the biggest sustainability challenges in retail, look at the established retailers that are tackling them head on, and how our Top 10 London start-ups are approaching the issues.