Retailers can undertake possible environmentally focused change initiatives by examining how they communicate with consumers downstream in the product chain.
The overall aim of such activities is to make it easy and attractive for consumers to make sustainable choices. Assisting consumers to make more environmentally sound choices can for instance be done be 'greening' the product range, by strategic product placement of green products, by supporting the concept of buying less but higher quality and by developing advertising, communication strategies and price mechanisms to increase the uptake of and demand for green products.
Provision of 'Green' Products
The availability of organic, eco-labelled and fair-trade product alternatives refers to retailers working to ensure customers are offered green product alternatives in as many product groups as possible.
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Retailers can improve their environmental profile by increasing the share of organic, eco-labelled and fair-trade products in their stores. If a green product, for example, a product produced with fewer resources or without harmful substances replaces a traditional product; there is a positive, environmental impact.
Read also case on Provision of 'Green' Products: Coop, Denmark
The general trend among operators in the Nordic and European food retailing sector is to increase their offerings of organic, eco-label and fair-trade products. Nowadays even discount stores offer a permanent assortment of organic and fair-trade products. This is a sign that these products are becoming more a part of main stream offerings.
Communication Through Environmental Labels
Labelling schemes facilitate communication between producers and potential consumers, with the goal of promoting increased production and consumption of products that are more sustainable than mainstream goods and services.
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Labels cover an increasingly wide range of issues that consumers are encouraged to use in their decision-making; organic products, fair trade and social labels, nutrition, food miles, CO2 emissions, etc. On the one hand, these give consumers an opportunity to shop according to their values and priorities; on the other hand, it may be confusing for many people to decipher and use all this information or to differentiate between self-declarations that may involve 'green-washing' compared with labels that are certified by a credible third-party organisation.
Read also case on Communication Through Environmental Labels: Coop, Denmark, Sweden, Norway
Voluntary labelling schemes do have a role to play in promoting sustainable consumption; reliable and independent certification seems to be key in building consumer confidence in a label. In addition, labelling can be effective in driving significant improvements upstream in the production and supply chain; for example, energy efficiency labelling has played a crucial role in the environmental improvement of electrical appliances in Europe over the past decade.
The Nordic Swan, introduced in 1989, is one of the more successful voluntary labelling schemes, with high levels of consumer recognition and government certification, which brings credibility and consumer confidence to the scheme. Labels are a good communication platform, because they are visually easily to recognize and therefore make it easier for consumers to find environmentally friendly/ethical products in the shops.
Advertising and Marketing
Advertising and marketing refers to retailer's efforts to sell and promote green products, encouraging consumers to shop more sustainably through information, campaigns and space management in shops.
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The majority of mainstream retailers have adopted promotion strategies for their fair-trade and organic products, which include banners and leaflets, awareness-raising events such as tasting and information stands, and specific campaigns.
Read also case on Advertising and Marketing: REMA 1000, Denmark
Other initiatives include setting up websites introducing organic, seasonal and fair-trade products, and informing consumers about the environmental impact of wasting food or about their carbon footprint, radio advertisements on sustainable development and sustainable consumption, or entire TV documentaries and series on these products. It also includes advertising campaigns promoting low volume purchases.
The Nordic Ombudsman system has guidelines for advertisers on environmental and social claims in marketing, and provides legal advice on marketing that involves sustainability issues. Growing sales of green products can be obtained by creating visibility in the shops. Both via the shops’ prioritising of the green products in general, for example, by flagging the message on signs and also through in-store product placement.
Advertising campaigns promoting low volume purchases have been implemented by a number of retailers to reduce food waste – e.g. "buy one – get one free later".
Promotion of sustainable Lifestyles and Healthier Diets
Promotion of sustainable lifestyles and healthier diets refers to retailers initiatives to market more sustainable lifestyles to customers, for example to guide customers to cut meat consumption.
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Recent studies demonstrate that although for most food products the majority of environmental impacts take place upstream during the production phase, the technical limitations available today mean that the potential for cutting these impacts is low.
Read also case on Promotion of Sustainable Lifestyles and Healthier Diets: Coop, Denmark
For example, the total environmental impact from livestock production could only be reduced by about 20 per cent. Changing diets to healthier ones with only moderate adaptations in the share of meat consumption would reduce the overall environmental impacts related to food consumption by around 8 per cent.
Better management of the demand side is needed, especially concerning environmental high impact product chains such as those related to the supply of meat. Promoting more sustainable lifestyles and healthier diets is one of the most important missing areas of downstream actions.
Pricing of Green Products
Green product alternatives typically cost 10 to 50 per cent more than conventional products. The pricing of green products refers to retailers actively working on reducing the price differences between conventional and green products.
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A 'good' pricing of sustainable products should aim to support sustainability goals and the mainstreaming of the purchase of sustainable products. Organic and fair-trade products typically cost 10 to 50 per cent more than conventional products and the majority of retailers currently do not have any plans to subsidise them, with the exception of a few retailers who are actively working on reducing the price difference.
The pioneering work of some retailers actively working on reducing the price difference between conventional and green products could be emulated by a larger group of retailers.
Customer Transport To and From Store
Customer transport to and from stores refers to retailers implementing actions to reduce the environmental impacts of consumer transportation to stores.
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The manner in which customers travel to and from the store can have a large environmental impact. Estimates suggest that car journeys to and from the store generate 20 to 50 per cent of CO2 emissions from food transportation within the UK. Consumers' transportation to stores can have an important impact in terms of climate change if it is calculated as part of retailers’ direct impacts. However, the effect will be highly dependent on whether the store is a city store or an out-of-city store.
Examples of a current retailer initiative in this field include home delivery services, informing customers about their transport behaviour and participating in the extension of the network of bus routes to ensure the stores are well connected through the public transport system. In the Nordic countries only a few initiatives for reducing consumer transportation to and from stores were identified.