An average shopping mall in India that occupies an area of 100,000 sq. ft to 500,000 sq. ft, consumes between 120,000 litres and 600,000 litres of water a day. It also consumes roughly 250 kilowatts of power per square metre in a year. Ideally, a commercial structure of this scale should consume about 30% to 40% less power and water, according to conservation experts. While Indian retailers are only just starting to think green, major retail chains across the world have already put their sustainable strategies in place.
Sustainability is not just a goal, it is a necessity, according to Re-envisioning Retail, a new report on business and environment released by the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) in partnership with RBC Royal Bank (available at retailcouncil.org). While it’s early days for India’s $450 billion retail industry to practise the slogan, the retail report on Canada notes that the “fast-growing middle classes in developing countries such as India and China are hungry for more transportation, energy, food and consumer goods—everything from tablet computers to cars...with so many more chasing the “good life,” there is certain to be greater pressure on already stressed natural resources and ecosystems.”
Sameer Barde, assistant secretary general, retail, at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) understands the urgent need for the retailers to think green but says the concept is still nascent in the country.
“In India, the sustainability drive can be restricted to a few big niche players as most chains here are still making losses. They first need to gain maturity in business to be able focus on other such initiatives. International retailers like Wal-Mart and Tesco have global initiatives conducive for the environment but it’s still early days for India,” Barde said.
Even the unorganized players in the sector that account for 90% of the industry do not have environment sustainability on their priority list, said Abhishek Humbad, co-founder and director, NextGen, a Bangalore-based energy and environment company. “The mom and pop stores in India do not have the environment on their priority list as of now. Although, considering the size and scale of their stores, they are still far more energy efficient than the modern trade retail outlets,” he pointed out.
Small start: Saplings being planted outside Bharti Wal-Mart’s Best Price store in Amritsar as part of the firm’s green initiatives.
In the retail sector, Humbad works with companies such as Shoppers Stop Ltd and adventure gear brand Woodland to develop energy conservation methods. Through environment sustainability initiatives, companies can reduce costs by 20-25%.
“Clients who work with us view green investments as a way to cut down overall costs and as a great marketing initiative to connect with consumers,” Humbad said.
In India, retailers such as Shoppers Stop, owned by the K. Raheja group, Madura Fashion and Lifestyle, the lifestyle garments business of Aditya Birla Nuvo Ltd, and Bharti Wal-Mart Pvt. Ltd, the wholesale joint venture between the world’s largest retailer and Bharti Enterprises Ltd are pioneers in taking sustainable development initiatives as part of their corporate goals.
“In India at Bharti Wal-Mart, our sustainability efforts are developed around the three corporate goals of ‘renewable energy, zero waste, and sustainable products’. We are actively engaging suppliers, customers, associates, and the government in our initiatives to meet these goals,” said Arti Singh, senior vice-president, corporate affairs, Bharti WalMart.
As part of its direct farm initiative, the company connects with nearly 4,000 small and marginal farmers across five states delivering locally grown fruits and vegetables to its Best Price stores as well as the Easyday stores run by Bharti Retail, Singh said.
Madura Fashion and Lifestyle, with its portfolio of brands including Van Heusen, Louis Philippe and Peter England, has launched several eco-friendly products. Organic material has been used in Van Heusen’s ECO shirts and Peter England Oxygeans, said Ashish Dikshit, president, Madura Fashion and Lifestyle.
“Van Heusen’s eco shirts are made out of 100% organic cotton fabric, grown in a sustainable and environment-friendly manner, and Peter England’s Oxygeans uses innovative jeans stone-wash technology that saves up to 80 litres of water,” Dikshit explained. Both products have received an enthusiastic response from consumers. The company said it has sold over 100,000 Van Heusen eco shirts since its launch two years ago.
Last year, the company implemented an environment management system that focuses on maintaining a clean environment through waste reduction, the reduced use of natural resources such as water, paper and fuel and the greater use of eco-friendly dyes and chemicals while processing fabrics.
“We launched the initiative at our offices, warehouses and manufacturing units in the first phase. We gradually hope to expand the programme this year to cover our suppliers and vendors,” added Dikshit.
Shoppers Stop also promotes green initiatives such as energy conservation, use of greener modes of transport and water conservation besides selling “Back to Earth”, the company’s brand that offers eco-friendly products across categories. In 2007, the company formulated an energy management policy and introduced advanced monitoring and control tools to avoid wastage, inconsistencies and indiscriminate use of all forms of energy. “We deployed energy saving and conservation systems like central energy monitoring systems, variable frequency drive , rescheduling of air handling units etc. We also trained and educated our associates to put their best effort in conservation of energy at work and at home. All these resulted in over 35% reduction in energy unit consumption for our stores,” said Vinay Bhatia, senior vice-president (marketing and loyalty) and customer care associate, Shoppers Stop.
“As responsible corporate citizens, we believe it is our duty to enrich and give back to the community... The icing on the cake is that certain green initiatives translate directly into the bottom line. For instance, our energy saving and water conservation initiatives led to cost reductions for the company,” said Bhatia.
For energy efficiency, Humbad of NexGen recommends the use of LED lamps. To conserve water, retailers should use water-cool chiller systems that reuse water effectively. “Retail stores must create awareness on low carbon living to consumers through display of energy star rating of products and stocking solar home solutions for sale,” Humbad said.
Retailers looking to make green investments both for sustainability and profitability, however, say that the high cost of setting up solar and wind energy farms for conservation is a challenge. Scaling up the initiatives and changing the mindset of stakeholders also remain to be tackled.
“Setting up solar and wind energy farms is unviable for a sector like retail with narrow margins. Scale is an issue since we are new. Changing the mindset of the stakeholders and bringing them around to sustainability is still a challenge but this is changing rapidly,” said Singh of Bharti Wal-Mart.