Sustainability in Store

University dissertation from Lund University

Abstract: Retailers across Western Europe are faced with the challenge to integrate the idea of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) into their operations. The difficulty hierin lies in the the lack of any clear understanding or agreement for what the term implies for retailers and how to implement it in retailers’ daily operations. Instead, retailers need to handle a number of different – at times competing – understandings of SCP among their stakeholders and combine these into a strategy that fits their business interests. In this thesis, I study the interaction between retailers, their stakeholders and market demand to understand how the complexity of the sustainability discourse is translated into concrete action on the shop floor. My results show retailers to be highly flexible in their work with SCP, however also quite unstrategic. Much of retailers’ efforts to integrate SCP into their operations is based on a trial-and-error process with frequent mistakes and change of direction. To approach SCP more strategically more attention must be paid to the sensemaking process of SCP among stakeholders and how it connects to market demand. My research found that rather than focusing on the overall sustainability of products and services, retailers ought to comparmentalize SCP to match specific stakeholder groups in a meaningful way. Retail brands have emerged as particularly useful tool in this respect. Due to the property rights assigned to such brands, they offer the retailer the ability to actively enage with SCP and adapt its meaning to stakeholder expectations. However, sensemaking of SCP is also to a great extent a local process, removed from the national discourse. While brands are well-suited to engage with the macro-discourse, they are not sufficiently able to adapt to the micro-level discourse. My research points to the important role individual stores have in the adaptation process of SCP to the micro-level discourse. Several examples of successful micro-adaptation to local sensemaking of SCP at the store level could be observed in my research. Successful integration of SCP into a retailer’s operation therefore seems to depend on a functioning multi-layer process within the organisation, where both headquarters and stores contribute their strengthes to a functioning internal translation procees of SCP, from global discourse to local enaction. These results have particular relevance for centralized retail organisations. They imply more responsibility for stores in the sensemaking and operationalisation of SCP as a way to achieve a more contextually meaningful approach to SCP.