In an era where climate change is almost a daily headline, the pressure is building on retailers to become more environmentally minded. The past 12 months have seen an unprecedented number of retailers, large and small, jump on the green bandwagon, and the issue looks set to receive an even greater standing in 2008 as research shows that consumers are starting to choose where to shop based on a retailer's green and ethical credentials.
And being kinder to the environment won't just please your shoppers, it's also likely to make your bank manager smile, too. Reducing the amount of energy that you use is one of the fastest, most effective ways to save money, as well as improving your reputation as an environmentally responsible business.
And the best bit is that you don't need to make major alterations to see the difference. Making savings on heating and lighting is one of the easiest ways of reducing your carbon footprint and business costs. Your electricity bills could fall by as much as 15%, just by switching off lights in areas that aren't being used, such as back office or stock room. Keeping windows clear to make the most of the natural light is another easy way to save, as is leaving plenty of space around heaters. Don't heat unused space, and keep the thermostat away from cold spots. Always ensure that freezer doors are closed, and that your system is at the right temperature. If it's even 1°C lower than needed, your costs could rise by a chilling 4%.
The humble plastic bag also looks set to grab the headlines this year, and reducing their usage will no doubt form a key part of many retailers' eco strategies, particularly since Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for their demise as part of his Climate Change Action Plan unveiled last year.
Smaller stores can play their part by encouraging shoppers to re-use their bags, offer branded bags for life, or use environmentally friendly paper alternatives.
Guy McCracken, Chief Executive, Co-operative Food Retail
"The recent surge of interest in ethical and environmental issues among food retailers is most welcome. It's an area that the Co-operative Food Group has been a strong advocate of for many years.
"Retailer targets on environmental performance now abound. Indeed, we've set some stringent targets of our own around the areas of packaging - where we will reduce our own-brand packaging by 15% by 2010 - and energy consumption - where we'll reduce by 25% by 2012.
"In the past few months we have introduced the UK's lightest whisky bottle, removed unnecessary shrink-wrap from much of our fresh produce, certified all of our household papers to the Forest Stewardship Council standard, and have built energy efficiency in as standard into our store refit programme.
"In 2008 we'll be implementing our Food Ethical Policy which has enabled our members to vote on the issues they deem to be the most important for the Co-operative Food Group to deliver on, be it Fairtrade, packaging or climate change."
Guy Warner, Warners Retail, Gloucs
"The green issue is here and here to stay. If you are not already thinking green, now's the time to start as not only will your customers appreciate it, but it can also save you money.
"Being energy efficient has never been so important given that we are seeing such unparalleled growth in the cost of power. I have recently installed energy-efficient lighting and refrigeration systems and I'm already seeing a 15% cut in energy use. Reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill is also an absolute must, as is reducing plastic bag usage. They cost retailers a fortune to buy anyway, so I'm glad to see the back of them. Buying local can also help to reduce your store's carbon footprint."