Commentary

Green Stores Add To Marketers' Bottom Line

When it comes to distribution for consumer products and services, we marketers spend countless months planning and allocating resources vital to the right distribution mix for our brands. From pinpointing retail site selections to merchandise layout for the selling floor, we try to capture the best-suited brand home that will translate into maximum sales. Yet, as consumer behavior adapts with the times, the marketer must now consider another phenomenon trickling into our planning -- harnessing the power of green within our retail stores.

Going green has been no stranger to the marketing vocabulary. Whether it was sourcing renewable materials or evolving a production process, steps had been taken across a diversity of brands to not only be socially responsible but to develop environmentally friendly products that increased conservation and utilized renewable resources.

Consumers are no longer satisfied with just using eco-friendly products or re-modeling their homes to be more energy efficient. Research shows that they are seeking out companies that are taking substantial steps to improve and are committed to environment protection. Bottom line, the market expects more from the brands they support.

Real estate has never been a major variable in the marketing equation nor should it be. But there are a multitude of factors that are indicating that consumer-driven marketing professionals should be involved in promoting and influencing the decision to adopt green retailing, environmentally sustainable eco-stores. Eco-stores present the opportunity to shift customer perceptions of your brand and can open a new opportunity to reach new markets or challenge the positioning of your brand.

Over the past decade, office buildings served as a greater platform for developers and owners alike to use green real estate as a selling tool to big business. Little effort had been relegated to the retail segment, but with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System offering certifications, more and more brands are shifting toward greener doors.

Initially brands have been slow to adopt green retailing just because a quality of the store is a very important factor to consumers. However, in the past five years, major retailers have begun to integrate environmental sustainable practices into their retailing efforts.

The rate of adoption among chains is steadfast with dominant retailers Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Staples, Fed Ex and Whole Foods pioneering in this arena. And, they proudly promote their rankings at the top of the Environmental Protection Agency's green retail partners.

In May, Wal-Mart announced that it would test the use of solar power at two super centers in McKinney, Texas, and Aurora, Colo., in order to reduce the amounts of energy and natural resources required to operate and maintain the stores. This model would experiment with materials, technology and processes. If successful, the test store would roll out to other doors across the country.

Other brands are finding solutions to generate electricity or incorporate renewable resources within their stores by installing energy efficient windows for insulation or skylights and dimmers to maximize daylight and conserve electrical power. In addition to scouting for buildings certified as green for their electrical usage, retailers can also do things to make their stores' interiors sound, including using recyclable materials on everything from countertops to furniture to floorings.

Wal-Mart's initiative in its test store includes jewelry display cases built of renewable bamboo and dairy cases illuminated by LED light panels. Another solution is conservation through the natural resources of solar power, wind biomass, geothermal and small hydropower -- energy conservation used by Starbucks, Whole Foods and Staples. In addition to being good for the environment, these sustainable mechanisms also diminish operating and construction costs for retailers.

Economically, although there are significant costs initially, environmental sustainability significantly impacts operational costs long-term. When it comes to the maintenance of retail locations, it is the retailer, not the owner of the space, who withstands the worst of these expenses. For marketers, that can mean a positive effect on budget allocation, presenting an opportunity to direct those extra funds in activities -- such as promoting the company's sustainability -- that directly reach the consumer.

Green retailing has become a national effort. Although the United States has been slower to embrace green initiatives than other countries, eco-retailing is picking up momentum across the country. Some of nation's popular corridors are being re-designed to house green spaces, including in Denver and New York.

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