New online hub to help UK’s independent retailers become more sustainable

After much recent research concluding that UK-based small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are struggling to improve their environmental credentials, the Retail Sector Council (RSC) has launched a new digital hub offering practical advice.

New online hub to help UK’s independent retailers become more sustainable

The hub contains advice for both online and bricks-and-mortar retailers 

Called ‘Green Street’, the hub has received funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as well as the RSC. Retail Minister Paul Scully is co-chairing the initiative alongside Richard Pennycook, former chief executive of the Co-Operative Group and The Hut Group.

Listen on the hub are six principles for retailers to adopt to improve environmental sustainability, each with their own case studies and set of guidance on taking best-practice action.

Principles relating to in-house work cover improving energy efficiency and switching to renewable electricity; minimising packaging; improving recycling and reuse; stocking more sustainable products. There are also principles outlining how retailers can collaborate with fellow retailers and community organisations, participate in campaigning, train employees, inform customers and engage suppliers.

While the tool is open to retailers across the UK digitally, the RSC and BEIS are seeking to establish a physical ‘Green Street’, involving up to 30 independent retailers in one local area. The RSC has said it is in “advanced talks” with local authorities to set up such an initiative.

Moreover, while following the principles is voluntary, the RSC has said it will report the results of the hub and potential physical street to the Government, in the hopes of informing policymaking on new sustainability-related standards and supports for SMEs.

“Green Street is based on real experiences, not academic theories,” RSC member Victoria Robertshaw, co-founder of the Keelham Farm Shop in Yorkshire, said.

“It’s about taking action and not simply making another pledge. Green Street has evolved over many months and there has been really helpful input from a range of experts. Also, retailers who are already doing these things themselves have helped create a set of principles that are the spine of the guide.”

The RSC is framing sustainability as compatible with profitability through Green Street, outlining how following the principles can reduce overheads, attract customers and better engage staff and communities.

Turning ambition into action

A poll of more than 500 UK SMEs last November found that almost two-thirds (61%) believe that the move to a greener economy post-Covid-19 presents positive business opportunities.

But, despite a strong appetite from SMEs for sustainability action, research has repeatedly shown that many are struggling to turn ambitions into action due to a lack of in-house expertise and funding constraints – challenges that have only been exasserbated by Covid-19.

A poll of 254 UK SMEs this spring found that 40% see a lack of funding was a blocker to accelerating sustainability action in the short-term. Moreover, 70% said that could not find an online source of help for SME decarbonisation that was accessible and high-quality.

Similar surveys by O2 and the British Chamber of Commerce, and, separately, Lloyds Banking Group, found that challenges including these are stopping many SMEs from measuring their emissions or developing plans for reduction.

The UK Government has published guidance on how SMEs can and should measure and report emissions, following a call to action from Prime Minister Boris Johnson in May.

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Sarah George

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