The majority of point-of-sale materials are meant to be thrown away. Stores swap out promotional signage kits once a month on average, and corrugated displays only last a few weeks before being replaced. Only 40% to 60% of display materials even make it into the store. Unfortunately, this tremendous waste is often seen as a cost of doing business.

At the same time, many retailers and brands have developed a sustainability initiative as part of their corporate social responsibility programs. Annual reports document their progress toward impressive environmental goals.

How can retailers and brands reconcile their stated sustainability programs with these inherently unsustainable merchandising programs? After all, consumers say they would prefer to do business with companies that walk the talk when it comes to sustainable business practices. A recent consumer survey found that nearly 70% of respondents indicated that sustainability is at least “somewhat important” to them when making a purchase, and 47% would pay more for a sustainable product.

Consumers want to connect with brands on a deeper level than quality products or competitive prices. While product quality was the top reason for consumer loyalty in the survey, the second most common reason was sustainable and ethical business practices.

Finding solutions to the problem of waste in their point of sale materials will help retailers reduce their environmental impact and align their actions with their messaging. Eco-conscious consumers will respond to a brand story that resonates with their passion for sustainability.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle for Sustainable POS

IMS has helped a number of clients embrace sustainability by reducing, reusing, or recycling their point of sale materials.

Reduce

For one international spirits firm, IMS developed and ran a comprehensive plastic reduction initiative that eliminated 30% of plastic from its POS materials to align with their internal sustainability goals. The IMS team audited existing POS materials and proposed alternatives that reduced or eliminated plastic entirely. Solutions included transitioning from plastic display materials to more sustainable wood materials, and developing a heavy cardstock shelf talker that’s more durable and better aligned with client branding than the original acrylic version.

The program required looking at familiar processes in new ways. Typically, each item of branded apparel is shipped individually polybagged, creating unnecessary plastic waste with every item. The IMS account team worked with our supplier partners to develop new packaging guidelines, removing polybagging from the process. Switching from polyester tablecloths to sustainably grown recyclable cotton further reduced the consumption of plastic.

At the outset of the program, the team shared the common preconception that costs would increase due to the use of more costly substrates. However, the program not only significantly reduced plastic consumption but also cut campaign costs by $50,000.

The IMS and client marketing teams continue to work together to totally eliminate plastic consumption in POS materials. Reducing the overall environmental impact through deliberate design choices is perhaps one of the most effective strategies.

Reuse

Consider the entire lifecycle of your POS materials. A company could reuse items internally or find other potential users through donations or liquidations. POS materials could be repurposed and kept out of the waste stream. Decorating your branded merchandise just in time will make it easier to find a home for unused products. Storing seasonal materials may present issues, but it could be more sustainable than producing new materials each year. There may be charitable outlets, as well. One IMS Fortune 200 CPG client donated outdated metal shelving displays to food banks, giving new life to outdated display materials that would have otherwise been destined for the landfill.

Recycle

When designing POS materials, consider their end-of-life use. Avoid using materials that can’t be recycled.

IMS worked with Walgreens, a global pharmacy retailer and wholesaler, to replace a seasonal end-stand header with a reusable piece. The initiative reduced the production of cardboard end-stands by 67%. The new standardized recyclable structures are replaced annually instead of monthly as with the previous version. As a result, Walgreens cut 434,000 pounds of waste in fiscal year 2019. The initiative also reduced production costs and labor, as well as delivery costs and emissions.

Strategy for Sustainability

These initiatives and many others prove the point that sustainable POS isn’t an oxymoron. Guided by a genuine desire to find a better way, retailers can upset the status quo while still developing engaging, useful POS materials that not only serve their intended purpose but also support the company’s story. Engaging innovation from suppliers can uncover new sources of sustainable materials and products.

But the solution doesn’t always have to rely on new materials or technology. Simply questioning each step in a long-established process can reveal the potential for improvement. Do products need to be wrapped in plastic? Could sustainably grown wood or paper products replace plastic sources? Could racks or pallets have secondary uses? Reducing packing materials for POS materials can reduce waste as well as fuel consumption in delivery. Using recyclable or biodegradable materials can limit the number of items flowing into the waste stream.

Recognizing the throwaway culture in retail merchandising is the first step toward a more sustainable model. It doesn’t have to be this way. Marketers can continue to innovate to grab consumers’ attention and drive their behavior. Behind the scenes, sustainability goals can propel innovation.

To learn more about how IMS is making retail merchandising execution more sustainable, visit our Sustainability page or sign up for the IMS Insights Newsletter.

Article Author: Deirdre Kerrigan

Deirdre Kerrigan is Vice President / Executive Account Director at Integrated Merchandising Solutions, LLC. As a client service and operations manager with a proven record of enhancing customer relationships, her background also includes extensive experience in strategic client management for Fortune 500 customers with an emphasis on operations and process improvements.