This article originally appeared in the February/March 2020 issue of Canadian Music Trade magazine.
By Michael Raine
As climate scientists’ dire warnings about global warming grow more urgent and the timeline for needed action shrinks, every company’s environmental impact is under scrutiny. Whether motivated by prospects of good or bad press or an earnest concern for the world’s survival, there has been a noticeable and accelerating shift in retail over the last decade towards environmental consciousness. From Walmart and Ikea to Canadian fashion outlet Simons, major retailers are installing solar panels, reducing waste, and pressuring suppliers to reduce their carbon footprints.
But at Canadian Music Trade, we started wondering if there is much MI retailers can do to reduce their environmental impact. The answer, it appears, is yes – but how much of an impact (or reduced impact) an MI retailer can have depends on the size and nature of their store.
“We have seen that retailers are obviously very concerned, not only from a cost perspective but also from a world threat that we all face. Most have gone through the topline energy efficiencies, like going to LED lights, and then you’re looking at savings in terms of heat and HVAC, etc. But many cannot really control these depending on whether they’re in a shopping centre or not,” states Wendy Evans of Toronto-based retail specialists Evans & Company Consultants, which, among other things, specializes in greening retail.
“The more forward retailers have been looking at supply chains and seeing how they can reduce packaging and reduce the carbon footprint of their suppliers. The supply chain is over 90 per cent of a retailer’s carbon footprint; I think most retailers don’t realize that,” Evans reveals.
For any MI retailer concerned with their environmental impact, that is the tough reality we learned because, of course, one store is unlikely to have the purchasing power to influence its suppliers’ sustainability practices. And while more generalized retailers can choose different suppliers based on their environmental practices, MI retailers typically don’t have that luxury, depending on the brands and types of products they carry.
“It’s the big ones, like the Walmarts of this world, who of course have huge control,” Evans says, noting that since about 2005, Walmart has imposed sustainability guidelines on its suppliers to get them to reduce packaging and CO2 emissions, among other things.
For small, niche retailers like the majority of Canada’s MI dealers, the “number one thing would really be the energy savings, in so far as they can control their own costs, depending on the environment in which they’re selling,” Evans says. “The return on investment from energy reduction is the highest, with lighting and heating being the number one area.”
Of course, the larger the space, the more the business stands to benefit, cost-wise, from reducing lighting and heating energy consumption. Often, it’s about simple improvements. For example, changing all light bulbs to LEDs and installing sensors so the lights aren’t staying on in empty rooms. That alone can reduce a store’s energy consumption by up to 25 per cent, depending on its size. It’s also about turning off computers, cash registers, printers, TVs, and other electronics at the end of the day. And when purchasing any new electronics or appliances, opt for products with Energy Star or Safer Choice certification.
“What’s the waste generated by the store and how can you reduce that waste? Sometimes there are charges for [garbage collection], so when you look at greening retail, you’re also look at reducing costs. So, there’s a pretty good incentive for any business to want to become sustainable. Sometimes there’s an initial charge upfront, but often the return on investment is pretty fast,” says Evans.
Sometimes the biggest impact a smaller store can have is on influencing the actions of their employees and even customers. That may involve fostering a culture of environmental awareness, which begins with consultations. Store owners and managers should not begin by imposing new moral rules on their teams; instead, they can consult with employees, explaining earnestly why they want to improve the business’s recycling and waste- and energy-reduction practices – even in small ways. With their buy-in, it could extend beyond the walls and operating hours of the store.
“I think that sort of culture can be encouraged for store staff, and that retailers can encourage their customers to think about sustainability,” says Evans. “Also, in looking at a sustainability strategy, I really think you want to talk to all the stakeholders, which includes your customers. What does sustainability mean to them? What is important to them? They may come up with great ideas or things that they think are higher priorities than others. You also want to talk to your suppliers about what they have done and can do in addition to your staff. So, you talk to the various stakeholders and then you’ve got your checklist of things you can do. Then you have to strategize about how that fits in with the values of your business. So, you’re developing a strategy and timeframe and then planning how to implement your overall strategy.”
For employees, there can be rewards or incentives to, for example, take public transit to work instead of driving, or any number of other beneficial actions. But ultimately, if the business has a culture of priding itself on being a good global citizen, it rubs off on others. It also makes employees prouder and more loyal to the business. After all, everyone likes to feel that their work is helping rather than hurting the world, and that feeling may be more ingrained in the music world than other retail sectors.
Once you have a sustainability strategy in place, no matter how big or small, don’t be shy about letting customers know. There may be ways that regular customers can get involved. Plus, studies have shown that customers are more loyal to environmentally- conscious businesses.
In fact, Aberdeen Group, an international marketing company that studies buyer behaviour, found that retailers’ environmental strategies “represent not only a strategic and tactical shift in internal business processes and cost-efficiencies but also – and significantly – a new way of engaging the customer by leveraging sustainability initiatives to enter into a partnership with the customer as good global citizens. Aberdeen data suggests that retailers achieve not only dramatic cost savings, but also dramatically improved customer loyalty.”
In short, there is no one-size-fits-all environmental strategy for MI retailers. But it doesn’t require a mammoth effort from every store. In fact, in a research report she co-authored with folks from Toronto & Region Conservation and the Conservation Foundation of Greater Toronto, Evans and co. found that if just five per cent of Canadian retailers and their suppliers reduced their energy consumption by 10 per cent, the estimated energy savings in one year would be equal to the energy required to power half a million homes – or all of Ottawa – and would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 million tonnes, or the equivalent of removing 233,000 cars from the road for a year.
So, if you’re a chain of 80-plus stores across the country (that, I don’t know, happens to rhyme with “strong blockade”) then there is a lot that can be done. They can encourage/pressure suppliers to reduce their wasteful packaging and carbon emissions, or install solar panels on owned properties (worth mentioning: there are federal and provincial government rebates available for solar panels, Energy Star appliances, and more), or introduce policies at the store level. But small independent retailers can make a difference with a team effort to cut waste and energy use, which can in turn save a few bucks.
Bottom line, it’s worth the effort.