Survey: Retailers believe transformational sustainability will take years to achieve

Two-thirds of UK retailers believe it will take three years or more to transform their business models, processes, operations and products for holistic sustainability, a new survey has found.

The survey cohort included a mix of big-name corporates and independent SMEs 

The survey cohort included a mix of big-name corporates and independent SMEs 

Conducted by ITE Group, the retail trade fair organiser for Spring & Autumn Fair and Pure London, the survey asked 1,896 UK-based retailers of all sizes what they had done to improve their environmental practices so far – and what more they believed needed to be done before they could call themselves “truly sustainable”. This term was used as a qualitative self-identifier, with no numerical criteria.

Of the businesses surveyed, almost three-quarters (73%) said they had already begun making operational changes to reduce their carbon, waste or water footprints, or their energy consumption.

However, they identified a number of challenges in increasing ambitions further, with 66% saying that becoming “truly sustainable” would take at least three years.

Key challenges cited during the survey were changing business models, engaging with suppliers and the likely financial and reputational impact of passing increased product or service costs onto consumers. On average, retailers said that switching to a “truly sustainable” model would increase prices by 19% - almost double what they believe their customers would be willing to pay.

ITE Group’s regional director for the UK Julie Driscoll said the survey findings suggest that “the UK retail industry is passionate about taking action” on environmental sustainability, but must “overcome significant barriers” to go far enough and fast enough.

“To achieve true sustainability takes significant resource, time and investment - arguably, it’s a continuous process for improvement, rather than a destination,” Driscoll said.

“Retailers aren’t shying away from that responsibility, but they are being realistic when it comes to how quickly the change can happen.”

Mission Possible 

Retailers looking for an in-depth explanation of the steps they can take to achieve a sustainable future, today, are encouraged to read edie's Mission Possible: Achieving a sustainable future for retail report. 

Produced in association with E.ON, the free, 19-page report outlines exactly how retailers should be scaling-up action across all areas of sustainable development - energy, resources, mobility, the built environment and taking a leadership position. Download the report for free here

Sarah George



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