September 7, 2020 /Retail Insight

Why retail design needs to incorporate sustainable materials and embrace ‘reuse’ as a design tool

It’s the year 2050 and all shopping centres are eco destinations. Sustainable materials are commonplace and obligatory as we live and co-exist in a circular economy. We cannot for one moment believe that at some point in our history, a time existed where there was no legal infrastructure in place so that brands could supply and produce products that were not environmentally friendly and that stores created an incredible volume of waste. 


Back in 2030, we were grateful and relieved to see that the United Nations was able to achieve their environmental goals to have affordable and clean energy, fully sustainable consumption of natural resources and have climate change under control. Yet it was just 10 years before that, when the Australian bushfires that took place shocked the world and a pandemic swept the globe, humanity was forced to press pause on globalisation and international travel. It was an intensive and challenging time and people were not allowed to leave the house for prolonged periods. It was the year 2020 that the push for sustainability accelerated and mainstream consumption changed direction. Policymakers campaigned harder to pass laws to promote the emergence of the circular economy and companies worldwide adopted these constitutional acts. Consumers had decided that there was no more planet B.


It currently is 2020. The future of our planet is uncertain. Whilst COVID-19 and crisis management has been at the forefront of all businesses agendas, it is imperative that companies do not lose sight of other emergencies such as the health of the environment. If we wish to safeguard our planet from the dangers of climate change, it is essential for retail design to develop a strategy to ensure the use of sustainable materials.

73% of consumers worldwide wish to reduce their impact on the environment

Nielsen, 2019

1. Waste as a resource for new sustainable materials

Waste from food and building sectors are fuelling the rise of material innovations startups who are creating ‘retail-ready’ sustainable materials that don’t compromise on aesthetic appeal or functionality. Examples include the research team at the University of Brighton who collaborated with British material consultants Local Works Studio in order to create wall tiles from discarded oyster shells. At the same time, British materials expert Chips[s]Board was able to produce a biodegradable substitute for MDF by creating chipboard from industrial potato waste.

2. The era of reuse - the new retail design tool

As designers, it is crucial that we begin to embrace circular economy principles when it comes to creating retail design for stores. The stores we create today must generate KPIs centred on minimising environmental impact. One example we can look towards is Brut in Brussels which is an organic restaurant. The restaurant was designed by Design with Sense and 95% of the materials within the design were reclaim, including marble from dismantled chimneys and wooden roofing combined with antique furniture to create seating and tables. The lighting was created by old heating pipes. Using old materials, enables them to have a new lease of life. This is a particularly important strategy for retail as pop-ups are proving to be even more popular. If we are to design for store experiences that are temporal in duration, we must plan for a material’s end of life, so it can find a new design purpose.


Just before the pandemic hit the US, French sustainable footwear brand Veja debuted their first store in New York. Instead of investing in marketing and advertising, the brand places their money towards sustainability goals. Opening a store in a city like New York means that most people arrive by public transport or by foot, so the environmental damage in that sense is less of an issue.


However, redesigning a store from scratch can have a huge environmental impact. Instead of destroying the previous decor and interior design, the brand decided to work with as much as possible with previous space and repurpose it. As it becomes increasingly essential for more retailers to embrace sustainability as a design factor within their strategy, brands can ask themselves to what extent they can reuse and repurpose an existing site, as opposed to rebuilding and redesigning an entire space. 


Over in London, Danish fashion retailer Ganni opened their first UK store in the latter part of 2019. Known for their commitment to sustainability goals, the brand collaborated with Welsh company Smile Plastics in order to create colourful marble display podiums from recycled plastic. 


As stores set to move forward with their post-COVID-19 strategies, it is important for retailers to prioritise long term goals for the environment and the use of sustainable materials in their retail design as they lay out the micro-steps for recovery within their short term strategies. 

If you would like to talk to Sheridan&Co about how to incorporate sustainability within your retail design strategy, contact team@sheridan&