Now that top retailers like Wal-Mart and Starbucks embrace green practices, “green retail” is more than just a Google trending topic. In September, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) held its annual environmental sustainability conference in San Diego, where executives shared best practices in establishing environmental programs and integrating green practices into their companies. But as companies continue to go green, they must also think about how they can make green services more available to their customers.
Green retail has indeed come a long way. Back in 2005, when Wal-Mart announced its new environmental standards, critics were skeptical. Was Wal-Mart going green or just greenwashing? While the company surely realized going green meant some positive press, the environmental benefit of many of their new initiatives was legitimate. A Fast Company article in January 2010 covered 11 ways Wal-Mart was changing retail, including deploying more fuel-efficient trucks and implementing innovative recycling policies, such as sandwich bales. A closer look at Wal-Mart practices also reveals a focus on internal sustainability, i.e. how the companies themselves act sustainably. This is more or less what “green retail” has signified until now: which company has the most fuel efficient fleets or solar panels on its stores?
However, green retail is in the midst of a radical shift, redefining how retailers participate in the green economy. Retailers can now pursue internal sustainability initiatives AND bring green practices and services to the consumer. Clean energy is now for sale in aisle 4.
For example, retailers can offer clean power services in stores to change the way green energy is delivered. Solar power, traditionally complicated and expensive for homeowners, can be accessible, easy, and even mainstream in popular stores. In fact, solar power service is now available through select Home Depot stores in Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. With this service, homeowners can switch to solar power for little or no cost, and simply pay monthly for the solar electricity. This can save customers up to 15 percent on their utility bills.
Are green retailers just what we need to help make solar mainstream? They are certainly an important part of the equation. In 2009, SunRun surveyed 2500 mainstream homeowners and found that while most people begin their solar research online, over a third of them wanted to make their final purchase of solar power at a retail store.
One of the major barriers to mainstream solar is lack of awareness. Most people already know solar power is available and understand the basic environmental and financial benefits. What they don’t realize is that solar can be easy and affordable. By selling affordable green power service, retailers can take advantage of high-volume foot traffic and a direct connection to consumers to educate the public and deliver clean energy in a new and exciting way. There are fewer than 100,000 solar homes in the United States and 126 million total housing units nationwide. By selling clean power where people shop every day, retailers can make a remarkable impact on the environment and the clean energy economy.
Green retail no longer means only adopting environmental practices within the company. Now it’s about helping others adopt environmental practices to grow the green movement, not to mention saving consumers money.
Lynn Jurich is the president and co-founder of SunRun, the nation’s leading home solar company. With over 6,000 customers using Solar Power Service in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, SunRun owns and maintains more home solar systems than any other company. SunRun is also a featured provider in The Home Depot, and Toll Brothers pre-installs SunRun systems in select new homes.