sustainability, retail experiences, insights

A guide to designing sustainable retail experiences

Posted 18-11-21
4 minute read

Sustainability in consumer retail is often focused around factors such as packaging and provenance – quite rightly as consumer sentiment around these tangible aspects of retail is changing rapidly.

As (at the time of writing) the UN’s latest Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow draws to close, environmental change is very much front and centre.

The role that retailers have in sourcing and offering sustainable, environmentally friendly products to increasingly sustainability-aware consumers is clear.

But there’s more that can be done.

At Displayplan, we champion sustainable retail display and experiences through our sustainable design thinking approach, our focus on design for disassembly and recycling and our use of the Low Impact Shopfitting Tool (LIST) in our designs.

Sustainability in retail

Changing consumer awareness in favour of sustainability is driving changes in retail across the world. Among the young (in particular), sustainability considerations are increasingly coming into play with purchasing decisions.

For example, a survey found that 85% of UK shoppers feel they have been making more sustainable choices within the last year.

Similar trends can be identified across the USA and in Europe. Even more significantly, other recent studies show that consumers would boycott businesses that they perceive as not aligning with their expectations on sustainability.

Most companies have taken notice of these figures, and understandably, this has spurred them into action.

Health giant Johnson & Johnson recently pledged to source 35% of its energy needs from renewable sources, while Coca-Cola’s 2020 sustainability goals stated their intention to recover at least 75% of the bottles they introduce onto the market.

As outlined above, a common focal point for retailers is to offer eco-friendly products or sustainable alternatives alongside established products.

However, an equally relevant way to improve the operational retail carbon footprint is to follow a sustainable thinking approach to the design of in-store product or brand displays.

Displayplan’s sustainable design thinking approach is based around finding ways to measurereduce and offset carbon in retail solutions. It covers every aspect of retail display from concept design, through to technical development and deployment.


Include sustainability from the start

Carbon reduction must be built into the process from the beginning. It simply cannot be factored into a retail display design once it’s in place.

Starting with the choice of materials, to how the display is designed, functionality, manufacture, use of flatpack packaging and its eventual end-of-life, sustainability should figure from the first sketch concept, considering the complete display lifecycle and circular economy principles.

Design for Disassembly

A key element of the sustainable design thinking approach is the consideration of how the display will be reused and recycled at the end of its life.

For example, different materials should not be permanently bonded together. Plastic laminates used as facias or counter surfaces bonded to timber-based materials are impossible to recycle because of the difficulties of separating the materials. Design for Disassembly enables all materials to be easily taken apart for recycling.

Material selection

Using materials from sustainable sources and that can be easily recycled is incredibly important in sustainable display design.

Striking the right balance between brand look and feel, in-store display performance and durability requires a range of skills and expertise that must start with the specification at the design stage.

This enables supply chain managers and all people downline in the process to deliver sustainable solutions.

Eco-friendly material choice comes into play with manufacturing feasibility such as paint finishes, selection of inks used for printing, formaldehyde-free adhesives used in manufacture of materials such as MDF or chipboard, and – as mentioned above – the ease of separation of materials.


Shipment and transportation considerations

With shipment, consideration must be given to making all designs flatpack, minimising the size of the packaging and driving efficiency for loading containers.

Maximising the number of displays per pallet and container can have a significant positive impact on transportation costs and emissions, thus reducing the overall carbon footprint of a retail display solution.

Packaging for transportation

Display packaging is directly under the control of retail display designers, and is an important consideration in the safe transportation to site and recycling after use.

We specify packing materials that are easy to recycle and protect the display. We aim to eliminate single use plastics in our packaging. This ensures that no plastic enters our seas or landfill.

Eco-friendly packaging features strongly in consumer minds and retailers must adapt their behaviours not just to fulfil sustainability promises but also to retain customers.

According to Coleman Parkes Research, 88% of consumers think that packaging should provide more information about sustainability and 92% would choose paper-based over plastic-based packaging.

For these reasons, when designing retail displays, the importance of sustainable packaging for transportation should always be factored into the overall carbon footprint – and minimised.


Here at Displayplan we take sustainability very seriously, which is why we’ve pledged to be a net-zero carbon company from 2020 onwards.

To achieve our sustainability targets, we always:

  • Measure current levels of carbon in our retail display design solutions
  • Reduce carbon emissions wherever possible
  • Offset the emissions we cannot reduce

We’re experts in this field and can help you create showstopping in-store displays for your retail premises, brands and products, whilst also helping to minimise their impact on the planet.

To find out more, contact our team of retail display specialists today.