It wasn't too hard to make the Package Free store in Brooklyn, New York, an environmentally friendly space. Lauren Singer, Package Free's CEO, opened the store in 2017, which sells various health, beauty and lifestyle products aimed at reducing waste.
To shape the store with the environment in mind, she worked with a friend to find the materials needed, including woodwork from sustainable wood, milk paint and energy-efficient light bulbs with fixtures from a vintage lighting store.
The store tests vendor's products before selling them to shoppers and seeks out products that replace single-use items and don't have plastic packaging. The store has partnered with recycling firm TerraCycle to introduce recycling bins into the store where shoppers can recycle electronics, personal care, oral care and other waste, per the company's website.
The idea behind founding the store, Singer said in an interview with Retail Dive, was "to provide products and solutions for people who are wanting to reduce their waste and make it easier for them to do it."
While up-and-coming retailers like Package Free can be nimble in their sustainability efforts, research from U.S. Green Building Council suggests larger retailers are creating environmentally-responsible brick-and-mortar stores, too. Beyond wanting to do their part to safeguard the planet, retailers also see environmentally-responsible storefronts as both a cost-savings tool and a marketing opportunity to reach savvy shoppers, multiple sources told Retail Dive.
LEED, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a voluntary rating criteria for assessing the environmental health and performance of new structures, existing buildings and add-ons, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. According to the "LEED in Motion" report from USGBC, America drives the top 10 countries and territories with LEED certified retail projects, followed by Canada, Mainland China, Thailand and Brazil. In the U.S., California is the top state for LEED certified retail spaces, followed by New York, Florida and Texas, per the report.
Generally, retailers can improve on a range of areas including energy-efficient lighting and equipment, better waste management and overall location, said Stefanie Young, vice president of technical solutions at the USGBC. Consumers, whether for environmental or political reasons, are becoming more conscious about the way they shop and are evaluating their purchase decision, she said in an interview with Retail Dive.
Retailers could, for example, locate their stores in public transit-adjacent locations so that shoppers and employees can easily access them without a car, according to Young. Doing so could reduce vehicle air pollution, she said, adding that the organization has noticed retailers focusing on their proximity to transit.
Anthony Abate, vice president of operations and chief technology officer at AtmosAir Solutions, said his firm has worked with retailers for their air purification systems in their brick-and-mortar locations. The company provides clients with air purification systems that clean up and recirculate existing indoor air rather than bringing in and distilling air from outside, a technique that not only saves on energy but also can keep employees and shoppers healthier, Abate said.
Aside from wanting to obtain LEED certification and becoming more sustainable, retailers have come to the company for air filtration systems for various reasons, Abate said. For retailers in the supermarket sector, for example, they need to reduce bacteria and molds to minimize food waste and prevent employee or customer illness.
"It comes [back] to those LEED Green Building certifications … That's something that retailers are using to really talk to their customers and say, 'We're environmentally-conscious and building sustainable sites,'" Abate said.
The organization has seen an uptick in high-end retailers with an international footprint looking to make their stores more sustainable in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in regions like Asia where the effects of climate change are more acutely felt, Young said.
Just as consumers are paying attention to retailers who are building sustainable spaces, retailers are looking for landlords who provide environmentally friendly spaces, too. Finding landlords who align with their water, energy, green-cleaning and other sustainability goals requires retailers to coordinate across their legal, sustainability and tenant coordination teams, Young said.
"We're seeing a bit more efforts from the top down versus waiting for consumers to make their decisions on where they're spending their pocketbook," Young said.
Package Free's physical store started as a pop-up shop, Singer said. Given New York City's tight real estate market, Singer said she didn't have much of a choice in selecting a physical location with built-in eco-friendly features. However, she was free to customize the interior with environmentally-mindful materials.
When it comes to brands building sustainable storefronts, "it's a lot easier to start from scratch," Singer said. "I think what has contributed to our success so much is that our values and our mission were very clear from the beginning."
Showcasing sustainability efforts varies from retailer to the next, Young said. While many retailers want to focus more on their products and services rather than the environment, they recognize that they have to demonstrate to discerning shoppers what role they're playing in preserving the planet, she remarked. Those efforts seem to be paying off, because Package Free recently revealed that it raised $4.5 million in funding, which Singer said will go toward boost the company's marketing efforts and develop their own products.
When Singer started Package Free, customers typically sought out the retailer for a way to reduce their waste, but she now notices customers who happen to come across the store and appreciate its mission. While she thinks everyone should take part in leading an environmentally-conscious lifestyle, Singer said retailers hold a great deal of power to influence their vendors to consider the planet in manufacturing and shipping processes.
"I believe the burden of waste should never fall on the consumer; it should always fall first on the manufacturer and then, too, on the reseller or the retailer," Singer said. For vendors that don't meet its packaging criteria, she said, "it's doing a disservice to your own brand, because the way that we dictate that our vendors ship to us will only help them in the future."