What does it mean to be green in this day and age? We have moved a far cry from the lentil eating, hemp wearing eco-warriors of the late 80’s into a digitalised push button fulfilment economy – by 2020 the conventional retail store will be unrecognisable from the homogenised high street of the last decade, with same bland 'pile it high sell it cheap' model. Stores are now centers for entertainment, experimentation and education. The digital revolution has borne a series of cyber-economies – fewer physical stores are being built – this has to be a good move for sustainability, resulting in less waste, less pollution, less traffic and less congestion. Stores are still a cornerstone of retail brands, but their meaning and purpose is changing.
However with this digital transformation we must caution: as more is purchased online our orders will be selected and packed for dispatch in dark stores, shipped to us at a chosen time, to which ever location we prefer. This process is facilitated by smart devices; phones and tablets. Now this is indeed quite amazing, yet with new release versions of smart device numbers increasing to several per year – what do we do with the mounting volumes of obsolete devices in our midst? It's hardly surprising the eco-conscious millennials have already considered this wasteful behaviour and are now pioneering development of eco-smart digital devices. A collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Madison-based U.S Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have developed the capabilities to generate computer chips from wood-derived materials, now that's smart!
There are many wonderful examples of eco-smart sustainable designs. LSTN Sound and House of Marley have both designed and manufactured earphones made from wood – sustainable of course – these beautifully designed ear pieces are not only aesthetically pleasing – they also feature the most up to date digital technology for enhanced sound, control and listening comfort. Why do more technology retailers not follow suit? There is an opportunity here for Apple (and others) to lead the charge on sustainable technology, as a retailer and as one of the world’s largest manufacturers of laptops, tablets and mobile phones, surely this is a no brainer?
How does this translate to sustainable retail? According to Gartner, by 2020 there will be 25 billion connected devices in use worldwide, considering that over half of the purchases made by US and UK citizens online in 2014 were made on smart devices and those same smart devices were used by warehouse operatives to order, generate, locate and collate purchases and couriers to track, dispatch and record deliveries, our prolific use of smart devices demands that these are designed and produced in an eco-sensitive way and that other benefits are generated from their manufacture and sale that protect the word around us.
Much focus on the last 10 years has centred on the retailer obligations – recycling efforts, eco store design, waste management, packaging reductions and development of biodegradable material. The focus should also be on the employees and consumers to shop responsibly, effectively 'voting with their dollars' to influence product design and development. With the popularity of BYOD (bring your own device) not looking to wain anytime soon, the impact of smart devices on society creates a need to address sustainable production and retailing. This will no doubt become an issue for governments to consider with tax penalties for non-compliance and relief for retailers seeking sustainable methods to facilitate the digital retail revolution.
I am sure I am not alone desiring a smart device that has an eco-friendly design composition, a casing, created from sustainable materials and from natural sources, with a biodegradable infrastructure - rendering no harm to the environment is also a smart way to shop and do business – literally!
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.