Why retailers should train their teams about sustainability

By Fodhla O'Connell-Grennell

When I am not blog-writing or studying, I work part-time in Arnotts in Dublin. In January, the sustainability department of Brown Thomas Arnotts (BTA) rolled out a new training program for staff; so that every employee can communicate effectively about the impacts the business is having.

80% of BTA customers have said that sustainability influences their decisions when buying products and services. There is no doubt that consumers want to shop while living within planetary boundaries, therefore, the future of business depends on sustainability. However, to provide an eco-friendly product and/or service, staff need to be made aware of what your company is doing to drive sustainability in every aspect of day-to-day business.

Firstly, staff must be able to distinguish the products and/or services they are working with to know what is eco-friendly and why. This awareness also extends to what the company is doing externally from these products and/or services, for example, in BTA, staff know that the company has switched to verified green electricity, powered fully by wind energy and that the company is aiming to reach a zero waste to landfill target. This information should be made available on intranet platforms, notice boards and through direct communication from the sustainability department and green teams to employees.

Secondly, it is important to know that nobody can act effectively unless awareness, education and communication have been established first. Staff must be educated about sustainability, in addition to the awareness that pre-exists in employee’s minds. Education ensures that, at any moment, staff are able to communicate and inform customers about why certain products and/or services may be better than competitor’s products and/or services, for instance, a brand could say “all of our jeans are a part of the better cotton initiative” which instantly makes them more favourable than brands who are not a part of this initiative.

The most effective way to educate in retail is through training programs (Pat Kane is an ecopreneur, educator, writer, speaker and founder of reuzi.ie and runs such training programmes). In BTA, an online training program educated the entire staff across the six stores by using informative videos, click-features and short question and answer sections. The training lasted approximately 30 minutes and ensured that everything staff need to know to inform customers was covered in this training program. This is an exemplar method to complete successful training with little effort involved. Staff are not forced to allot a specific time to do the training, they can complete it at their own leisure and get the most from the training.

This ‘less stress, more success’ approach ensures that a company can tick awareness and education off their to-do list when informing employees about their sustainability efforts. It is down to the staff member to communicate with the customer about why sustainable products and/or services are the best in the market. Feedback from your customers should drive further actions which your company should be implementing and innovative ideas from your trained staff should also be taken on board. Changes can’t be made overnight, however, planning for effective change can be. Engaging employees and consumers is key to a sustainable business and actions should be made as quickly as it is viable.