How to nail in-store eco design

How retailers, brands and store design specialists are transforming the traditionally un-sustainable point of purchase area into a green dream

While eco-conscious consumers are quick to scrutinise INCI lists for any ‘problem’ ingredients, or call brands out on social media for excessive use of packaging, few have such exacting criteria when it comes to the ‘greenness’ of the in-store environment.

And yet there has never been a more opportune time to immerse your customers in a sustainable point of sale (POS) journey.

With consumers struggling to differentiate between brands that are sustainable on every level and those that are jumping on a lucrative marketing bandwagon, showing that you take the environmental impact of your POS set-up seriously will help raise you above the competition.

More than one hit wonders

“Single-use plastics, energy inefficient lighting and air-conditioning, non-recyclable laminate boards and inks, non-reusable metal fixture work and materials not sourced locally – these are all aspects that have traditionally been associated with unsustainable store layouts,” explains a spokesperson for UK health and natural beauty retailer Holland & Barrett.

But change is afoot. Paul Smart is Vice President of SDEA, the UK’s Shop and Display Equipment Association, and Director of New Business Development at arken P-O-P, and he tells SPC that the most common questions from members are about environmental innovation.

“The greatest challenge for retailers is that a large volume of display is often created to promote seasonal campaigns,” he says. “This means much is temporary and only used for short periods of time.”

That said, “we are already seeing major players taking great strides in embracing environmental initiatives and reaping benefits”.

Michael Sheridan, Chairman and founder of global retail design agency Sheridan&Co, similarly notes that sustainability is now important to most brands, beauty or otherwise.

“Everyone is doing their best to try to make sure that as much of their store front installations as possible can be recycled, upcycled, down-cycled, or at the very least, disposed of in the most eco-friendly way possible,” he notes.

“The problem with installations is that they are multifaceted generally, including fixtures, furniture and point of sale items, hence there is no one entity responsible for the entire cycle of an installation.

"Commonly you will have different elements manufactured all over the world, which then come together in the factory for production, so the process cannot be reversed wholly. Brands are, however, tending to manufacture furniture for use more than once.”

According to Smart, this tendency towards the reuse of installations is manifested in “retail display solutions that can deliver improved longevity, such as creating modular solutions, retaining display outer casings and repurposing them with new graphics to extend their shelf-life over several campaigns”.

Lush painstakingly researches the materials it uses in its stores, such as the Lush Fresh & Flowers in Paris, France

Holland & Barrett has adopted this approach, with the representative telling Cosmetics Business that its “adaptable modular kit allows us to reuse components to accommodate merchandising and communication changes across all categories within the store”.

Sustainable materials

Recycling is also high on the agenda, and there is much focus on the end-of-life disposal of POS display, and what materials can and cannot be recycled.

“Many parts of the new [Holland & Barrett] shopfit are constructed using sustainable solutions, FCC laminates and boards, recycled acrylics, recycled foamex and recyclable print materials,” says the retailer’s spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Sheridan highlights some exciting developments in materials technology, citing ten years of collaboration between Sheridan&Co and Leicester University on possible replacements for MDF board in furniture (MDF traditionally contains formaldehyde, making green disposal tricky).

One MDF alternative showing promise, for example, is wheat board, which is formaldehyde-free and biodegradable, although “very new to the market and subject still to trials and a qualifying period”.

Daniel Astarita, Sales & Marketing Director at Kesslers, which designs and makes displays for retailers and brands, tells Cosmetics Business that Kesslers uses cork as an eco alternative to MDF, stating: “Cork has a lot of the same properties as MDF in terms of structural tolerances.”

He also notes the benefits of opting for mono-material units that can be recycled back into the supply chain.

Holland & Barrett has just launched its first ‘clean & conscious’ beauty store in Birmingham, UK with sustainability at the forefront of its design

The Big picture and fine details

To be fully sustainable, however, POS must go beyond eco materials and repurposed fittings, and look at everything from the broader picture right down to the fine details.

As Kesslers’ Astarita says: “Sustainability for us is a joined-up process. It’s not just about the materials; it’s about the whole lifecycle of the product.”

He notes that because Kesslers has to use a lot of packaging when delivering display parts, “we buy a lot of biodegradable and recycled packaging” He likewise zeroes in on route-to-store.

If several clients’ displays are going to Boots, for example, Astarita asks: “Can we bulk load? Can we dual ship to cut down on vehicle usage? Also, can we make units that don’t have to be installed?”

Whereby the shop team could wheel it into place.

Not only does this save retailers and/or brands money, “you’re also not having two installers go out in vans to 200 Boots stores, doing 10,000 miles and generating whatever carbon emissions you’d get from that”.

Sheridan additionally notes that lighting has made big leaps in sustainable advancement, commenting: “There are some very sustainable solutions; we are seeing brighter light sources that use less power.”

For SDEA’s Smart, even seemingly small things, “like labelling component parts during production to allow for effective recycling at the end-of-life for a display” can make a huge difference.

To this end, SDEA has developed Convert Plus Green Tick, a sustainable design digital tool that lets retailers and brands measure and compare the environmental performance of POS solutions.

“This is an exciting time for sustainable innovation solutions across almost every aspect of in-store design,” says Smart. “In many ways, the only limitation is the imagination of both the supplier and its client”.

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