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The green retail revolution?

Given commerce is a worldwide obsession, it makes  sense that shopping outlets should be setting a example in terms of where they source their energy.

Recent developments suggest that positive moves are happening. One of the UK’s oldest out of town retail outlets, Clarks Village in Somerset, has just installed a significant quantity of solar PV on its rooftops, offering the promise 37,500kg of carbon reduction, for example.

It seems some solar companies are claiming their skills in installing solar on the roofs of malls as one of their major calling cards. There’s no wonder- roof-space plus voracious energy needs under the roof means these are the kind of commercial spaces where big savings in both money and carbon can be made. It’s not just solar that’s finding a place in the energy strategies of commerce, either – wind and other forms of generation could have a role too. Indeed, IKEA has just bought a 98MW wind farm.

These efforts are just one part of tackling a basic reality: economic growth based on buying things is not sustainable without large-scale change to energy use and materials, right through the supply chain.

But it’s not just about the fabric of massive buildings and the strategies of massive chain stores that could have a role to play in reducing the carbon intensity of the grid. It has been suggested that small retailers with a sustainable ethos could be leaders in helping consumers switch to green energy suppliers – tapping into what’s seen as the natural mindset of their conscious consumers.

In a trial in the States, small local shops are being paired up with local clean energy suppliers to offer switching in a regular retail environment – ‘like buying milk’, as this Guardian Sustainable Business article’s headline suggests. The piece makes some good points about the nature of electricity supply as compared with other consumer choices:

Shopping for electricity is an atypical kind of consumer behaviour. After all, electricity options don't often sit side-by-side on store shelves, can't boast reviews or star ratings on Amazon and rarely come up in everyday conversation.”

So we’re back to basics: ‘Offer it and they will come’. Let’s hope the old adage rings true, and brings about an energy transformation.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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