Calling all the radical brands.
Let’s make retail disappear!

With most industries today feeling the pressure to change their practices for the better, via social or political intervention, the retail industry could consider itself lucky to have largely flown under the radar. But this isn’t good enough, and it must change.

“Yes” you say – “we’ve heard this one before”. Well, let me just stop you there. Consider for a moment the way in which we buy products. Phones, clothes, sports equipment – everything is being sold to us in increasingly faster cycles. No sooner have you bought something and the world has moved on ready to sell a new “better” version.

The same can be said for retail. What’s considered at the forefront of the retail experience has its day very quickly and brands are forced to adapt, evolve or start again from scratch – as soon as the capital expenditure is written off on the brand’s balance sheet. Do you ever wonder what happens to a store fit out or its displays and fixtures when it’s removed? You might not have and I’d bet most people would be right with you.

Well, thankfully a good proportion of it is recyclable. On a less positive note, there’s a heck of a lot that isn’t, and it contributes to a lot of landfill. It’s mostly down to two things – Firstly, poor construction makes a lot of retail fixtures and fittings unrecyclable. Secondly, and most tellingly, most retail units and fit-outs are simply not designed to be reused or recycled, it just isn’t part of the brief to begin with. Cost and speed of manufacture are of far greater consideration than the environmental impact at this point in time.

So let’s paint a more positive picture of the future. Imagine, as mad as this may seem, designing a store that could completely reintegrate itself into our world leaving no trace and no impact, with each material down to the last nut and bolt, finding a new purpose. A store that leaves no mark on the physical environment that it inhabits and that’s very existence (and eventual lack thereof) is considered with equal care to the brand that it is there to support.

Imagine if it went further than that. If landlords or property magnates were encouraged to think more sustainably about energy, social impact or local reinvestment. If the materials in the store were traceable back to ethical and fairly traded sources. If its carbon rating could be recorded and reported on down to the smallest level. If the sourcing of raw materials and manufacturing went from international shipping to local delivery. If the client thought like this and wanted to start their new project with a better future in mind.

Retail shouldn’t be allowed to carry on as it has been, ignoring its impact on the environment. Retail can have a really positive role to play in the world, and it should do so responsibly. If a store that disappears is too much of a pipe dream – well, how close could we get? And what other positive impacts could it draw? It wasn’t that long ago that “A computer on every desk and in every home” seemed like a mad idea.

If  brands widen their focus on sustainability, traceability, and good ethical practice to include retail design and build as part of their strategy, then we can turn the conversation to – “how can we do all this at retail, responsibly?” and we can make a positive impact on the environment by rethinking an industry that often goes by unthought of.

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