The Different Shades of Green
in the Retail Landscape
We're already near the end of spring and for those of us with four seasons, the weather is finally shifting toward sunnier days. However, looking back this past winter, it was an odd one. There were record high temperatures and unexpectedly low snowfall. Did this impact businesses around the United States and Canada? Yes it sure did, and who knows what else lies in store for many retailers moving forward into summer this year.
According to retail traffic numbers posted by Citi Research analyst Kate McShane, and Cowen and Co. analyst John Kernan, retail traffic in the fifth week of March fell more than 20 percent. The total U.S. retail same-store traffic was down by approximately 24.80 percent year-over-year for the week. With an unseasonably warm winter, it left seasonal inventory high and the hopes of retailers to have a better selling season this spring fell short as well.
Businesses such as Alpine Sport Shop which celebrated its 75th anniversary aren't letting this atypical winter keep them down. “We're just going to continue doing what we do – focusing on customer service, our hands-on approach to retail and our great website,” said Cathy Hay who is the owner with her husband Jack. Another business such as Alpin Haus, which specializes in outdoor recreation also saw a drop in winter sales but it already installed its first pool of the season on March 14, a full month earlier than last year.
Last month some of us celebrated Earth Day to show our appreciation for Mother Nature and to create awareness of some of the negative impacts we have on the environment, for example: greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Many companies and fellowships make efforts to “go green,” to reduce the impact of their production and operations. But some may also see this as an opportunity to promote a new product or improved service.
In the technological aspects of “going green”, many companies are using solar panels to power their buildings at a convenient and affordable rate for the long term. There continues to be research on improving the functionality of solar panels, such as turning raindrops into power. Research conducted by MIT found a more efficient way to boost solar panel output by arranging solar panels in three dimensional patterns. So instead of placing them flat, the way in which most panels are arranged nowadays, they found that by placing them vertically in towers, power output is two to twenty times greater than what single solar panels generate.
As for major tech companies, Greenpeace stated that Apple, Google, and Facebook have already done a great job in favor of renewable energy use. Apple is already running all of their data centers on 100 percent solar energy. Google claims that their data centers are designed to use as little energy as possible by using “free-cooling” techniques and efficient power distribution to reduce unnecessary energy loss. For Apple's physical retail stores, they have made efforts to eliminate plastic bags in April. The plan is to distribute new iPhones and iPads in paper bags which are made from 80 percent recycled materials.
Although visible efforts to reduce pollution are being made at brick-and-mortar stores, online shopping is another field to consider. As online shopping has grown significantly over the past year, one question that arises is whether or not online shopping is better for the environment than going to the store. One study from Carnegie Mellon University's Green Design Institute discovered that online retail not only uses less energy, but its carbon footprint is a third smaller than that of brick-and-mortar retail. However, some supply chain experts warn that such studies are not accurate in depicting real world scenarios, such as an Amazon Prime user who impulse-buys clothing, random books, cosmetics, and food supplements at least two to three times a week, while living within walking distance from a Walmart or Target.
Another study conducted by Simon Property Group presented that online shopping actually has a 7 percent greater environmental impact than going to brick-and-mortar stores. Although these studies have different conclusions, the real issue is that online shopping and consumer behavior is continuing to evolve and can be viewed as being ecologically impactful both positively and negatively, depending upon your stance.
Whatever trends that may ensue and the strategies that follow suit, there is always an opportunity to meet the needs of consumers with well devised ingenuity, awareness, and adaptability. While it's important to generate increased profits and revenue, there is still a moral obligation to our planet to maintain a continued awareness of our impact on the environment in the long run.