A letter to the retail industry – The future of shopping could well be green

By Edward Davies, Founder of conscious online department store Wearth London

***Wearth are offering F + C readers 10% off all purchases with the code FLORANDCESTA***

Credit: Wearth London

Credit: Wearth London

2017 was a momentous year for the movement against plastic-free living. In the UK, this was propelled by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II showing the devastating impact plastic is having on nature. Many people for the first time were learning about the issue of single use plastic and ways they can live more zero waste. With a growing movement to living in a more sustainable way, last year also saw a big jump in demand for products which not only take the environment seriously but are also ethically made.

With this growing demand, many small independent UK brands have launched. They are set up by people who genuinely want to have a beneficial impact on the planet whilst running a business which is also ethically minded. I am one of these people.  I’m Edward, and myself and my partner Imogen have recently launched Wearth London; a conscious online department store.

Credit: Wearth London

Credit: Wearth London

We realised that there was a lack of retail opportunities for these inspiring independent brands with strong sustainable and ethical values. We launched Wearth in October 2017, to create a home on the internet for these brands to grow, whilst making it easier for people to discover local brands that care about their impact. We now have over 30 brands on the site, and offer everything from natural beauty products that come in plastic-free packaging and are all vegan-friendly, to jewellery made from recycled silver and contemporary handmade furniture crafted in the UK using reclaimed wood.

There is a growing movement towards sustainable and ethical shopping which is amazing to see but it isn’t yet mainstream and it is interesting to try and understand what the future holds for retail. For me, the main question here is whether the trend towards living more consciously will continue or fade away.

Here demographics (you can tell I studied Geography at Uni) is a good way of predicting what will happen. According to a global Nielsen consumer study, 66% of millennials are willing to pay more for products and services that have a positive social and environmental impact. A nice anecdote as well which recently came out in the press points to even younger people becoming eco-conscious.; five-year old, Ava, sent a letter to Pizza Express saying, ‘I am writing to please ask you to stop using plastic straws as they are very bad for animals. They can get stuck in their mouths and noses’. In response Pizza Express have now banned straws across their restaurants nationwide! Now that’s consumer power!

This demonstrates the impact even the very youngest generation are having on changing how large companies operate. If Ava is a representation of her generation, which is likely considering how millennials are also very aware of the issues, then it is likely the movement will continue.

As a small conscious business owner, an important question for me is whether and how the big retail companies which hold a lot of the power in the market will respond to this changing consumer demand. In some ways, they already are, Pizza Express is just one example of many global companies changing their ways to become more ‘green’ and join the fight against plastic. It is a huge undertaking though for companies of this size, with such large supply chains to overhaul their practices. I think we will continue to see mainstream retailers reacting and making some positive changes though.

From my own experience running a sustainable business, I think companies will need to take a more holistic view of their business practices if they truly want to help protect our environment. By this I mean they must look at the overall supply chain, improving areas that are having a negative impact and being transparent with customers. I think if one major brand decides to take a leap of faith and invest in genuinely improving their practices, consumers will recognise this, leading to more sales and increased revenue. Other companies will follow suit and we can create a more transparent and fairer retail industry. The question is, which retailer is going to jump first?

Although I am hopeful bigger companies will start to realise the benefit of becoming more conscious about the environment, it is difficult to teach old dogs new tricks, especially when most of these companies must focus on profit to keep shareholders happy.

As a result, I believe there will be a lot of opportunities for new brands to become very popular if they are genuinely committed to being sustainable and ethically minded with all aspects of their business.  

So how can you support the movement to a plastic free retail economy?

  • Shop locally – Be it your local grocers, bakery or charity shop, there are some hidden gems out there which are more likely to have sourced their products locally but are also more likely to not be wrapped in plastic. 
  • Use your power as a consumer - If you see an obsessive amount of plastic being used in a big store, take a photo and post on social media saying how this is unnecessary and tag the company. If you have time, try Ava’s approach of contacting the company via email or letter.
  • Recognise perfection is not possible – In our busy lives it is difficult to live zero waste. That said just being conscious of how much plastic you buy and trying to keep this to a minimum makes a big difference!

***Wearth are offering F + C readers 10% off all purchases with the code FLORANDCESTA***