Brands should follow consumers’ lead and make sure sustainability is a driving force behind the design of their retail outlets.

Concerns that the COVID-19 crisis might divert attention away from the climate emergency have thankfully proved wide of the mark. Coresight Research’s latest survey found that 29 per cent of US consumers think the pandemic has made environmental sustainability more of a factor for them when shopping; respondents cited the way it had made them reflect on their wider priorities and the fact that lockdown has demonstrated our collective potential to create rapid environmental change. A global study by Accenture provides further supporting evidence, with 67 per cent of consumers believing that companies can ‘build back better’ if they invest in longer-term, sustainable and fair solutions.

‘As stores set to move forward with their post-COVID-19 strategies, it is important for retailers to prioritize long-term goals for the environment and the use of sustainable materials in their retail design as they lay out the micro-steps for recovery within their short term strategies’, argues director of retail design agency Sheridan & Co Freddie Sheridan.

As stores set to move forward with their post-COVID-19 strategies, it is important for retailers to prioritize long-term goals for the environment

Brands and retailers have been taking note. We’ve already touched on London department store Selfridges' new Planet Earth initiative, which includes a commitment ‘that by 2025 the most environmentally impactful materials used throughout our business will come from certified, sustainable sources.’ Though two years in the making, the launch couldn’t have come at a better time.

Others are following suit. At the end of August Tommy Hilfiger published its Make it Possible sustainability programme, promising to find ‘ways to minimize our carbon, waste and water footprints, from what we buy to where we sell'. The directive includes targets for all properties to produce zero waste and be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030. This builds on the brand’s recently developed ‘Building Design Rulebook’, which provides guidance for reducing greenhouse gases across its property portfolio in Europe, as well as its GreenUP! Tool, a set of sustainability guidelines and assessment metrics for stores.

Timberland has just announced a similar mission statement, with plans to achieve a net-positive impact on nature by the end of the decade, including designing all products to be fully circular. This emphasis has already affected the brand’s retail-design strategy: Timberland’s new ‘purpose-driven’ store on London’s Carnaby street, which opened at the end of last year, features repurposed industrial waste and bioresins in its construction.

In terms of sheer scale, the pacesetter here remains Nike. The sports apparel brand’s third House of Innovation concept store, which opened in Paris at the end of July, utilized more than 85,000 kg of sustainable material across the store design and display fixtures. However if it’s a question of using interior treatments that not only incorporate sustainable and repurposed materials, but also embed them within the wider brand narrative, independents are providing the model. We’d suggest looking to fashion label Ganni's first UK store, or eyewear brand Ace & Tate’s most recent outlets.

It’s also important to highlight that it’s not only consumer demand that’s driving this change, but the institutional heft of major finance brokers as well. As we covered earlier this year, the adoption of sustainability-linked loans by the likes of France’s Credit Agricole Group is ensuring brands adhere to strict parameters regarding the ecological impact of their business, including the creation and operation of retail sites.

Hero image: Ganni's first UK store was created in collaboration with retail architecture practice Stamuli. Photo: MOON