About sustainability in retail

Sustainability, net-zero, and zero-carbon initiatives in the retail sector in the UK are focused on reducing the environmental impact of retail operations, promoting sustainable practices, and mitigating climate change.  


Here's an explanation of these concepts and their significance in the UK retail industry. 

Our position

  1. Encourage recognition of the increasing desire from customers to shop in a more sustainable way 

  2. Highlight opportunities to minimise packaging and packaging alternatives  

  3. Promoting a circular economy  

  4. Create accessible information and resources on sustainability practices 

What you can do

Visit our Sustainability Hub for more information and resources. 


Keep us informed by letting us know of any current issues, opinions or updates. Email membership@bira.co.uk. 



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Key aspects


Sustainability refers to the responsible use of resources to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In the retail context, it involves adopting practices that minimise the environmental, social, and economic impacts of retail operations. This includes initiatives such as reducing energy consumption, managing waste efficiently, sourcing sustainable materials, and promoting ethical supply chains. 


Net-zero refers to achieving a balance between the greenhouse gas emissions produced and the emissions removed from the atmosphere. It involves reducing emissions as much as possible and offsetting the remaining emissions through measures like carbon offset projects. For the retail sector, achieving net-zero emissions entails implementing energy-efficient practices, transitioning to renewable energy sources, optimising logistics and transportation, and adopting sustainable packaging and waste management strategies. 

Zero Carbon

Zero carbon specifically focuses on eliminating carbon emissions from retail operations. It entails utilising renewable energy sources, increasing energy efficiency, and minimising or offsetting carbon emissions associated with energy use, transportation, and supply chains. Achieving zero-carbon status involves comprehensive strategies that reduce reliance on fossil fuels and prioritise the use of clean and renewable energy alternatives. 

The UK retail industry has been actively addressing sustainability and climate change concerns. Many retailers have committed to ambitious sustainability targets, including setting deadlines for achieving net-zero emissions and zero-carbon operations. Retailers are adopting various measures to meet these goals, such as investing in energy-efficient technologies, implementing renewable energy solutions (like solar panels), optimising transportation routes, promoting circular economy practices, and engaging in responsible sourcing and recycling initiatives. 

To support and encourage sustainable practices, the UK government has introduced policies and initiatives like the Retail Sector Council's Sustainability Charter, the Better Buildings Partnership, and the UK Plastics Pact. These efforts aim to foster collaboration between retailers, industry stakeholders, and policymakers to drive positive environmental change within the retail sector. 

Sustainability, net-zero, and zero-carbon practices in retail not only contribute to environmental conservation and climate change mitigation but also resonate with consumers who are increasingly conscious of their impact on the planet. Retailers that prioritise sustainability and embrace these initiatives can enhance their reputation, attract eco-conscious customers, and drive innovation within the industry while playing a vital role in achieving broader climate goals in the UK. 

Additional information

Independent retailers need to recognise the increasing desire from customers to shop in a more sustainable way. Meeting customer expectations for sustainability involves several considerations: 

Product Range: Independent retailers can curate their product range to include sustainable and eco-friendly options. This may involve sourcing products from ethical suppliers, promoting organic or locally made goods, and offering eco-conscious alternatives to conventional products. 

Packaging and Recycling: Minimising packaging waste and promoting recycling is crucial. Retailers can explore packaging alternatives that are recyclable, biodegradable, or made from sustainable materials. Encouraging customers to bring their own bags or offering refillable options can also reduce packaging waste. 

Circular Economy: Embracing a circular economy approach involves extending the lifespan of products through repair, refurbishment, or resale. Retailers can offer repair services, promote second-hand or vintage items, or participate in buy-back or recycling programs. 

Government intervention is vital in supporting sustainability efforts in the retail sector. Providing accessible information and resources on sustainability practices can help businesses make informed decisions. Grants and financial incentives can encourage retailers to invest in energy-efficient technologies, adopt sustainable practices, and reduce their carbon footprint. 

When it comes to reducing carbon emissions in towns and cities, it is essential to develop plans that are both laudable and inclusive. While initiatives like clean air zones and traffic reduction measures aim to improve air quality and reduce emissions, it is important to ensure that they do not inadvertently drive customers to out-of-town retail parks. The overall goal should be to reduce carbon emissions holistically rather than displacing them to other areas. 

Furthermore, preserving accessibility to town centres is crucial. Efforts should be made to provide alternative means of transportation, such as improved public transit or cycling infrastructure, to maintain access for all while reducing reliance on private vehicles. 

By embracing sustainable practices, independent retailers can not only meet customer expectations but also contribute to the broader goals of reducing carbon emissions and creating more environmentally conscious communities. Collaboration between retailers, government bodies, and industry stakeholders is essential to drive sustainable change and ensure a more sustainable future for the retail sector.