Green Fashions, Green Retailers


By Nancy Geisler, The Ashkin Group

While it didn’t quite cause as much of a buzz as Angelina Jolie’s leg, many of the celebrities attending the 2012 Oscars Awards Ceremonies were wearing what can be termed “Green fashions.” For instance, Meryl Streep, winner of the Academy Award for her role in the film Iron Lady, wore a full-length gown made of gold, eco-certified fabric sources. Livia Firth and her husband, actor Colin Firth, both wore garments made from eco-friendly and recycled materials. And actress Missi Pyle, one of the stars of Best Picture winner The Artist, wore an eco-friendly dress specially designed for her by a Green-focused fashion student from Miami, Florida.

In fact, all of these celebrities were embracing an Oscar ceremonies program called the “Green Carpet Challenge,” which was started by Ms. Firth in 2010. The goals of the program are:

  • To encourage celebrities and others attending the Oscars to select clothing that is more environmentally friendly and responsible, as well as sustainable
  • Promote the existence of such fashions to the millions of people watching the awards
  • To demonstrate that the movie industry is doing its part to help promote sustainability and protect the environment.

Designers often pay celebrities attending the Oscars thousands of dollars to wear one of their designs. In this case, however, celebrities wore Greener garments voluntarily in order to encourage customers to “think Green” and demonstrate their concern for the environment–even when it comes to what they wear. What this tells fashion industry retailers is that not only are Green fashions gaining momentum, the entire Green and sustainable movement is growing and expanding into all areas of our lives.

This new philosophy goes beyond just purchasing products–in this case garments–that are more environmentally responsible. Customers are increasingly expecting retailers to be “on the bandwagon” as well, meaning they operate their stores in a Greener and more sustainable manner in addition to selling Green products.

From Hardware to Haute Couture

Before discussing what fashion retailers can do to make their stores Greener and more sustainable, it’s worth noting—and learning from–what a far less glamorous retailer did to make his store Green. Don Sather is the co-owner of a Colorado hardware store. In 2000 he designed what he believed to be the “ultimate” Green store. The store includes a wide variety of Green and sustainable features, including:

  • Solar shingles and walls, which provide an aesthetically pleasing way to generate solar power
  • Energy-efficient windows placed to take advantage of natural lighting
  • Extra wall insulation
  • Soy countertops
  • Energy-efficient radiant-heat heating systems
  • Low-flow water fixtures in restrooms and kitchens
  • Construction materials—including even parking lot pavement –made from recycled materials

One particularly interesting feature of Sather’s store–and something that can be adopted in many other types of retail environments–is a computer-controlled energy management system. This system adjusts the lighting and HVAC systems based on need. So, for instance, if the store is bathed in natural sunlight and temperatures are moderate, the lighting is automatically dimmed and the HVAC system is turned down. This can lead to a significant decrease in energy usage as well as a cost savings.

Tips for Making Your Store Greener

Sather’s key suggestion for retailers beginning the journey toward making their operations Green is to tackle the biggest environmental and conservation problem areas first.

For instance, for retailers in colder areas that have high heating costs, his recommendation is to install “the latest, most technology-advanced heating systems available.” Although such systems may be costly, they can have the biggest immediate Green and sustainable impact–and pay the biggest dividends.

Retailers should always remember, going Green–and especially becoming more sustainable–invariably results in cost savings. Some of these savings are tangible, meaning there is an actual reduction in operating costs. Others are less tangible, including such things as reduced staff absenteeism and the marketing potential of customers who appreciate having a Green and sustainable shopping option.

Other suggestions to make your store more environmentally responsible include:

  • Transferring to Green cleaning chemicals and products, such as HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners and low-moisture floor machines and carpet extractors. Unlike the new self-adjusting HVAC systems mentioned previously, which can be quite costly, selecting environmentally preferable cleaning products is essentially cost neutral.
  • Eliminating toxic or environmentally harmful chemicals. Switching to Green cleaning chemicals might be a no-brainer, but there are other chemicals used in stores that can be detrimental to health and the environment. For instance, some adhesives are high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause respiratory problems and harm indoor air quality.
  • Signing up with a Web-based sustainablity “dashboard” system; this new technology can help stores monitor their consumption of energy, water, fuel, consumables, waste, etc. They also provide a benchmark so that retailers can measure the effectiveness of sustainable initiatives once they are implemented.
  • Cutting back on energy and water consumption. The hardware store discussed earlier installed a computerized system to monitor energy consumption. However, there are less-sophisticated yet still effective steps that can be taken to reduce resource usage. For instance, installing simple energy-efficient lighting systems and water aerators can reduce electricity and water consumption.
  • Holding Green events. Many high-end retailers hold charitable events, not only to do something to help those in need, but also to get potential customers into their stores. Why not hold an event for a Green charity or cause? Many customers, both new and old, flock to such events, especially if they include activities focused on children. Don’t forget to mention the Green and sustainable initiatives your store has incorporated!
  • Beginning an extensive recycling program. Deliveries are made to retailers every day, and these usually come in boxes wrapped in plastic or contain packaging materials that are all-too-often discarded in dumpsters. Create specific recycling containers in back areas for paper, cardboard, bottles, plastic, etc., and don’t be shy about placing recycling containers in customer areas as well.
  • Encouraging suppliers to make environmentally friendly changes. For instance, mega-retailer Wal-Mart is now demanding that their suppliers meet specific criteria indicating that they are taking steps to be Greener and more sustainable. One reason they are doing this is because they know it can help reduce costs. While you may not be as big of a player as Wal-Mart, you can still develop a purchasing program that gives preference to those suppliers that incorporate Green operating initiatives.
  • Selling Green. Green retailers must “walk the talk.” Stock more products, fashions, and accessories that are made from recycled materials and more sustainable resources. If Meryl Streep can wear it at the Oscars, you can sell it in your store.

Nancy Geisler is the Executive Director, Business Development and Director, Stakeholder Relations at Sustainability Dashboard Tools LLC and also Sustainable Atlanta, which serves as a catalyst and facilitator for sustainable progress in Atlanta.