Issues such as climate change and rising awareness around the need for social justice have sparked a growing trend towards sustainable consumption across a variety of sectors. ‘Conscious consumerism’ has gained a significant foothold in South Africa, compelling retailers to review their processes, policies and supplier partnerships, as well as align them with changing consumer demands. Research points to the fact that sustainable retail is the next necessary evolution in the retail sector.
Globally, almost all the retailers in the Top 250 have finalised their commitment to environment, social and governance (ESG) initiatives with publicly available reporting mechanisms on sustainability targets. As per the 2022 Global Powers of Retailing report published by Deloitte, sustainability has gone from being a buzzword in the global retail sector, to being an integral and non-negotiable component of brand strategy. Gavin Lomberg, RCS chief commercial officer at RCS says this is how local business can become part of the sustainable agenda:
1. Make sustainability your top priority: South African consumers are joining the fray of global consumers for whom sustainability is a top priority. Leading retailers such as H&M are making commitments to building a more sustainable industry with the launch of its Conscious Collection recently. Likewise, supermarkets like Checkers have launched several initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint, promote the use of sustainable packaging and support charitable causes.
2. Harness the personal purchasing power of consumers: This shift is an outward reflection of changes that are occurring both within the broad global framework of retail as well as at a grassroots level. More South African shoppers are realising that their personal purchasing power represents immense potential to influence and shape industries.
3. Share your purpose: This is supported by the findings of the latest McKinsey Global Consumer Sentiment Survey which analysed 11 consumer markets across the world, including South Africa. According to the survey, South African consumers are more willing to support brands and companies that are purpose-driven – more so than they are to support companies that invest in aspects such as innovation and trends. The study also revealed that South Africans are particularly supportive of brands that promote and support causes such as animal welfare, social responsibility and employee wellbeing.
4. Be a value-driven brand: South Africans are growing in their understanding of the two factors that global sustainability objectives encompass: people and the planet. Today’s consumers will hold brands accountable on public forums. Value-driven brands and retailers will therefore fare far better than their counterparts in future.
5. Have sustainability in your sector: Business needs to have a key focus on impact, driving sustainability in each industry. For example, the RCS LevelUp business “inspirator” programme, trains SA businesses to participate in a six-month ESG curriculum involving practical lessons, tools and resources, ongoing mentorship, networking opportunities and exclusive events.
6. Provide sustainable funding to grow your industry: Puno Greenery, an Agritech, crowd-farming platform provides a platform for local start-up farmers to sell shares of a portion of their upcoming harvests in exchange for funding. By encouraging an interchange that helps farmers to scale their businesses, Puno Greenery’s value proposition as a business aligns strongly with RCS parent, BNP Paribas’s objective to promote responsible savings and investments.
7. Be a business mentor: In support of the goal to foster financial and social inclusion, LevelUp cohort member, Helplink Africa has taken up the mantle of helping local SMEs in the tourism sector to reach local and international holiday-makers using the power of digital technology. Helplink Africa is committed to the ‘bigger picture”, believing strongly in the conviction that when SMEs thrive, families and people thrive, which in turn reaps widespread benefits for South African society and the economy.
8. Tap into the circular economy: Bringing the value of natural capital and biodiversity to the fore is Water Hygiene Convenience, an award-winning water management solutions company on a mission to conserve water, the earth’s most valuable finite resource. Another of BNP Paribas’s sustainability principles, the circular economy describes the founding philosophy of Upcycle, a company that focuses on reducing landfill waste by finding innovative ways to recycle and reuse discarded items.
9. Produce viable solutions: Net-zero: energy transition and climate action is at the heart of the Green Movement, a coal and firewood replacement product called Woodies, that reduces smoke pollution and waste and is a renewable alternative to fossil fuel. This is an important development for South African communities and a viable solution for decarbonisation in industrial businesses.
10. Become a pioneer: Through their participation in the LevelUp programme, the budding entrepreneurs at the helm of these pioneering small businesses have been welcomed into RCS’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, propelled by international backing and an international footprint.
Main image credit: Unsplash.com.
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