sustainable retailing At last November’s Independent Achievers Academy gala dinner my wife, Melanie was presented with the award for sustainability and health. We are both thrilled to get recognition for the way that we operate our store. It may sound a little trite to say that in running our business we want to preserve the planet. But for us we really want to do what we can to reduce the impact that our business has on the environment.

We break sustainability down into four parts, customers, recycling, local food and utility usage.

At one level sustainability is about our shop being in business tomorrow, next month, and next year and so on, but it is also about having a sustainable relationship with our supply chain. Living in an agricultural community we know from our farming friends just how challenging some supply chain relationships can be. On local food we try to source supplies where we can from Somerset or the adjoining counties. Food miles matter to us and our customers recognise this. When we add a new supplier to our list its for the long term, while profit is important we need suppliers to be with us so that we know that we can offer the diverse range our customer have come to expect.

My first job was at the WH Smith shop in Newbury, I worked after school dealing with the rubbish, even then in the 1970’s the job included segregating empty cardboard boxes for recycling. I may have moved up from that position, but we recycle the cardboard boxes at our shop and have bought a bailer to make the process more efficient.

Recycling is important because we have been able to halve our waste going to landfill. In fact the company we use, Commercial Recycling also checks our refuse to ensure that everything that can be recycled is recycled. We segregate our ‘waste’ into glass, plastic and cardboard and these items are collected free of charge on a regular basis. This means storage is kept to an easily managed challenge and fire risks minimised. We pay around £10 per collection of our 1100 lt waste bin so are saving ourselves around £500 year by doing the right thing.

While Melanie and I have been running our shop we have found that we have some customers that we can learn from about sustainability, those who are happy to come with us on our journey and others that don’t yet understand. Customers clearly have a part in our sustainability strategy not least when it comes to carrier bag usage. When we first owned our shop in Castle Cary we noticed that we were regularly packing our customers purchase in single use carriers. We were using hundreds each week and many of them for just one item. The first thing we did to control this was to simply ask the customer if they needed a bag.

While this reduced the number we were putting out in to the community we wanted to take our customers further. We did this by launching our ‘Martins of Castle Cary’ jute bag for life. They cost us about £3 each, but are designed to last, we reckon at least 5 years. To promote the message to the community about our big step towards reducing our impact on the environment we gave away over 100 of the jute bags to our account customers. We also talked to customers about how they could help us by using bags for life, shopping baskets and other long life shopping carrier bags.

Although we still offer ‘single use’ carrier bags we now offer customers a biodegradable bag that starts to biodegrade after 24 months. We know that we could source a bag with a much quicker biodegradable character, but we do know many of the ‘single use’ bags are used several times.

We have a delicatessen counter as part of our store and we used to have polystyrene pots and trays that we weighed our loose products in to. Unhappy with the environmental impact of these small packaging items we sourced supplies of a cornstarch replacement. These are made from renewable material and are biodegradable.

On the utility front we first undertook the simple things like reducing water usage by installing ‘hippo’ bags in the toilet cisterns both in the shop and in our house. Within the business there really isn’t much more we can do to reduce water consumption because shops are very low users. I am aware that there may be water footprint issues for the products we sell. For instants Coca Cola say that it takes nearly 35 lt of water to produce a 500ml bottle of Coke.

It is with electricity usage that we have endeavoured to make a difference on consumption. First we did simple thinks like clean the sky lights to our stockroom so that we could avoid using lights during daylight hours. We have also minimised the usage of shop floor lights outside trading hours. I have even trained myself to turn my office light off when I am not using it. We are ensuring that all our staff get the message about turning off unnecessary lights and other electrical equipment.

Next we installed an Owl wireless electricity monitor, this is a device that has one part that attaches to the incoming power cable next to the meter and a display unit that I have on my office desk. The monitor allows me to keep track of our power use and has let me know where our times of peak use are. I have been able to use the equipment to change the way we use our power hungry refrigeration. We have changed the chilled product displays so that the product always sits slightly further back into the shelves so that the path of the cold air is always uninterrupted. We have 13.5 metres of open display refrigeration so this is important and it does make a difference.

While talking about refrigeration we have our equipment regularly serviced and have asked the company we use to look out for nearly new compressors so that we can replace our older units with more efficient ones. This is a less expensive way of undertaking the investment and it meets our sustainability goal by using recycled where possible. We have looked at fitting doors to our open chill cabinets, but due to the lack of space in front of them we haven’t been able to find the right solution yet. Because of the potential energy saving this can deliver we will keep looking.

The changes that we have made to reduce electricity usage have born fruit. In the 8 years that we have owned our shop our electricity cost per unit have more than doubled, but with our achieved 8% reduction in usage coupled with finding the best deal we can each time our contract ends we have taken a significant edge off this rise.

The things we do can be copied and repeated by anyone, you just have to have the desire to engage with your own sustainable agenda.