More sustainable practices by retail stores
The Straits Times today reported that the retail sector is taking more measures to promote eco-friendly practices.
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Eco-friendly stores chase green dollar
Energy-saving lights, recyclable bags part of retailers’ green arsenal
The look is rather more rustic: The shoes sit on stacks of old shoeboxes and wooden blocks. At the counter, the cashier puts your purchases into recyclable bags.
Hush Puppies is among the growing number of stores taking the plunge into eco-retail. This goes beyond hawking environmentally friendly products to using recycled material in store fittings and packaging and installing energy-saving systems.
The fittings at Hush Puppies’ store, for example, are recycled corrugated boxes, compressed pinewood and old shoeboxes.
Over in Orchard Road, shoe retailer Terra Plana’s walls and floors at its Mandarin Gallery and Ion Orchard branches are made from recycled wood. Their recycled-paper shoeboxes are handed over to customers in paper, not plastic, bags.
Supermarket chain FairPrice has installed energy-saving features in the lights and refrigerators in about two-thirds of its stores, and plans to make these de rigueur in its new outlets.
Its competitor Cold Storage said it is expanding the use of LED technology and energy-saving features in its stores, and has started using recycled material for the flooring in some of its outlets.
Meanwhile, Nanyang Optical in recent years has taken to recycling the glass from used spectacles and plastic from contact lens solution bottles.
One store has gone the whole hog. Choose, a store in Chinatown which sells eco-friendly products such as sanitary pads made from organic cotton and paper made from bamboo, uses its office premises as a showcase for green practices: It uses energy-saving lights and is cooled by inverter air-conditioners.
Besides having a recycling bin, the office also uses live worms to create a rich compost in the pantry out of its employees’ leftover food. The compost fertilises the garden behind the shop.
A co-owner of the business, Mr Low Yiqi, 27, reckons the business has halved its carbon footprint, or the amount of carbon emissions it would have generated, with these practices.
Mr Low, whose customers are mainly upper-middle-income housewives and businessmen, said: ‘This approach is what our customers are looking for now. They are becoming much more conscious of not only what they buy but also from whom they are buying.’
No studies have yet been done on the worth of the green dollar here, but it seems significant enough for businesses to start chasing after it, say observers.
Mr Howard Shaw, the executive director of the Singapore Environment Council, said: ‘These businesses realise customers are including eco attributes in their decision to purchase products.’
The council gets about a dozen calls a day from customers looking for eco- stores to patronise, he added.
Mr Yatin Premchand, who runs business sustainability consultancy EcoWiz, said the eco-retail trend is a positive development for consumers, in that it raises awareness of green issues and widens consumers’ choices.
A totally eco-friendly store may cost 20 per cent more to set up, but the returns on investment would make up for these added costs, he added.
Market watchers expect the green retail wave will catch on, now that global retail brands are setting up shop here.
Major brands have already embraced environmentally friendly practices in a big way, such as by reusing waste in their products, noted Ms Angelia Teo, the head of content in the Asia-Pacific for fashion trendspotting firm WGSN.
She said: ‘We have seen the green trend spread across the globe with such amazing speed that I don’t think Singapore will likely be left behind.’
More shoppers go for eco-friendly items
SHOPPERS, especially those in the middle and upper-income brackets, are making a conscious effort to buy environmentally-friendly products, say recent studies.
A Reader’s Digest survey of 1,000 people from the upper half of wage earners found that three-quarters were willing to pay extra for eco-friendly products.
A MasterCard poll conducted in November had similar findings: Nearly two-thirds of the 250 respondents here said they would go out of their way to buy environmentally-friendly gifts, and three-quarters said they are more likely to patronise eco-friendly merchants.
But there is a limit to their pro-green sentiment: cost. The Reader’s Digest survey said shoppers will, at most, pay 8 per cent more for an eco-friendly product than its regular equivalent.
With cost-conscious Singaporeans, price and value still rule, going by a Straits Times street poll of 57 shoppers.
Mr Yatin Premchand, environmental business consultancy EcoWiz’s founder, said: ‘It’s a dilemma. Of course, everyone wants to do good for the planet. But in Singapore, when it comes down to it, shoppers still want to save.’
The good news is more affordable eco-friendly products have started filling the shelves in recent years, narrowing the price gap between them and regular products. For example, Hush Puppies’ new eco-friendly line of shoes, made of biodegradable and recycled materials, costs $149 a pair, against $135 for the brand’s average pair of casual shoes.
Retailers say the falling prices are due to a rising demand for eco-friendly items; with more distributors bringing them in and increased competition, the cost savings are passed on to consumers.
FairPrice has expanded its range of eco-friendly items from 60 items in 2005 to more than 400 now. Prices have fallen for some products, said its spokesman. For example, its 23-watt energy-saving light bulbs now cost up to $8.15 each, down about 20 per cent from 2005. But they are still 10 times pricier than regular non-energy-saving brands.
Choose, an amenities store on Sago Street, has also dropped the prices on its more popular eco-friendly items. Its bath towels made from cellulose now cost $2.40, down from $3.20 last month.
Patrons interviewed said a low price is the most attractive reason for buying a green product. National serviceman Kenneth Tan, 24, said: ‘I feel that if a discount is offered, then there’s an incentive to make an extra effort to go green.’
SEVERAL nationwide green retail initiatives have been launched in recent years, among which are:
Launched in 2007, this drive by the Singapore Environment Council aims to get shoppers to bring their own bags one day a week to reduce the number of plastic bags given out.
Fourteen shops and chains, mostly supermarkets, are taking part. FairPrice has also created a checkout line in its City Square Mall outlet for customers who bring their own bags.
More retailers have started offering discounts to customers who bring in an old item to ‘trade in’ for a new one.
The Straits Times has reported that stores like Royal Sporting House, EpiCentre, Levi’s, Samsonite and Skyla have run promotions on items ranging from computers to shoes. The discounts offered could be, say, $10 off for a new bra to hundreds of dollars off Samsonite luggage. These stores sift through the items and send the usable ones to the Salvation Army.
Starbucks is encouraging its customers to bring reusable mugs to its stores for their beverages.
In return, they get 10 per cent off on any of the chain’s beverages. The chain hopes to get all its customers to do this by 2015.
TESSA WONG and JESSICA LIM