With Earth Day yesterday I thought I’d take the liberty to share with you my personal ideas of what you can do to make your retail space more environmentally sustainable. Working in retail design really drove my interest in sustainability. Considering what we were designing, and ultimately manufacturing wasn’t the actual product – everything we were responsible for lived at retail anywhere from a few weeks to only a few years. Then it all ended up in a landfill quite frankly, at least in the early days. I didn’t, couldn’t let that me my legacy. At times I wished people would just buy products out of cardboard boxes on the floor of stores.
Fortunately it hasn’t come to abandoning all things retail, there are things we can do as designers, and merchants, to make store more sustainable. And in reality, this is as much about effectiveness and efficiency as well. Selling products in a delightful, engaging way, while minimizing excess costs and materials. It’s also about making intelligent design, manufacturing, and implementation decisions.
And as with anything, some retailers – chain and independent alike – do a great job already, and are leading the way. For others it’s not even on their radar, even in this day and age. But that’s okay, it’s never too late to start reaping the rewards, or taking it to the next level.
So without further ado, here are my quick thoughts on making your retail experience more responsible, smarter and earth friendly.
LED Lighting – I’ve been keeping tabs on LED lighting at retail for over ten years, and finally the technology is mainstream…ready for your store, regardless of who you are. The capabilities in terms of working hours, color rendering, and color temperature exist to meet all of your needs: from lighting jewelry, to food, from sporting goods to greeting cards. LED lighting will save you money not only via your electric bill, but also your maintenance costs because the LED “bulbs” last so much longer than incandescent light bulbs. Plus your retail presentation won’t suffer from burnt out bulbs hiding behind egg crate grills. Get rid of the ugly light diffusers and grills and let your lights shine. LED solutions are available in a variety of form factors from light strips to ceiling fixtures to individual bulbs.
Graphics – I’m a big fan of letting graphics, printed with environmentally friendly inks on sustainable substrates, do a lot of your retail experience heavy lifting at retail. Graphics afford the retailer flexibility at a lower cost as opposed to being stuck with burdensome displays that may go out of style or function. Try to stick with printing on paper based materials. There no need to print on styrene or other plastics unless the you’re planning on keeping the signs for a year or 500 years. If you do use these petroleum-based substrates, have a recycling plan in place – find a recycler before you burden the public landfills with that much material.
Temp Displays – Use temporary displays. They’re made from corrugated board which contains a lot of recycled material, or virgin material made from trees, which are renewable. The displays are recyclable so make sure you are recycling your displays, often times as simple as throwing them in the bailer. Make sure your displays aren’t contaminated with too many plastic components which can ruin a batch of recyclable board. Resist the temptation to use styrene shelves for show, even if you’re in the cosmetic industry. Just don’t do it. If you thought temp displays were too low brow for your store, look again. They are available with a variety of high-end finishes that make them look fantastic. Or better yet, look at direct printing them to get a chic eco feel for your product or store.
Think Modular – Modular systems, if done right can be the saving grace for your retail store. I’ve designed several of these systems and they are a good way to get a comprehensive solution at a lower cost, with better use of materials. Components can often be shipped K/D (knocked down) to save on cost and fuel usage. The flexibility of the system means you won’t need a new display every time something changes in your retail business. Made from durable materials they’ll last for years. And they can be updated without remaking the entire system – think accent panels, graphics, accessories.
Keep It Simple – Product and your brand should be the main attraction. Don’t embellish just for the sake of embellishing things. Too often I see random materials and complexities added to a retail design project for seemingly non-brand enhancing reasons. These things add complexity, cost and material. Know your brand and let that guide your decisions. Less is more.
Paint – Use zero-VOC paint to spice up your space. Paint is flexible in that it’s easy to change the feel of a space without a lot of cost, or environmental impact. And don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit – paint different walls different tones and have fun with it.
Use Materials Wisely – Plastic lasts forever, yet at retail what doesn’t change in the blink of an eye. If you use plastics, make sure there is a good reason, and make sure you can, and will recycle them when their life in your store is through. Metal is an awesome material with intrinsic value. Even if you throw it out, someone will garbage pick it and sell it for scrap. Just be mindful of shipping weight which equates to fuel usage. Wood is a great renewable material. Strive to use water based finishes and avoid too many contaminants such as laminates that can make the wood likely to end up in a landfill. Wheatboard, or clear coated MDF are interesting options to look into; though MDF is so-so from an environmental standpoint. There are even countertops made from paper.
Okay, there are just a few ideas. Regardless of what you do, do something. As I said, in the end you may find it’s not only good for the planet but also for your bottom line.
President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC
Chris Weigand Design is a design consultancy specializing in helping independent retailers and entrepreneurial brands excel at retail. Check out www.chrisweiganddesign.com to find out more. Contact us today to learn how we can help make your retail experience more sustainable and engaging.