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A New Leaf

Conscious consumerism is on the rise

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Higher prices, limited availability and inconvenience historically prevented purveyors of responsibly sourced consumer goods from dominating the market; the tide may soon turn.

In this ever-evolving retail landscape, the concept of “conscious consumerism” – the idea that consumers make purchases based on the values of the brands they buy – is becoming increasingly influential. In a recent webinar, Joan Insel, director and retail design strategist at Callison (Seattle), reflected on the trend and offered her predictions on how this growing demand will translate to the retail industry at large.

Insel named companies making headlines with their charitable and environmentally forward brands – including Toms (Playa Del Ray, Calif.), with its “one-for-one” donation business model; Starbucks (Seattle), for its strides in greener store designs; and Swiss company, Freitag (Zurich), for its recycled-materials messenger bags – as some of the trend’s frontrunners.

Each of these companies, among many others, Insel says, represents the shift to a more conscious – and conscientious – consumer. “We realize consuming affects humanity and the world at large, and our purchases have the power to express our beliefs,” she explains.

The shift from the conspicuous consumption of past decades to a future of conscious consumerism is driven by younger generations of shoppers: In a 2014 global survey by Nielsen, millennials represented 51 percent of respondents who said they’d be willing to pay more for sustainable products.

Insel attributes this change to the evolved perception of consuming. “It’s all about the total value, not necessarily the total price,” she says, explaining that the modern consumer asks themselves: “What’s in it for us? How can we achieve the greater good?”

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Shopping is no longer an activity focused on the final purchase, but rather, the personal interaction. Consumers are now fully immersed in the brands they buy, identifying with companies through social media. If a brand represents cultural responsibility, they can tout the same.

Store designers are implementing adaptive reuse methods to bring retailers into the sustainability arena and to accommodate those who are already there. Retail designs are increasingly using reclaimed elements and sustainable materials to create a small environmental footprint.

“Let’s make it easy for the conscious customer,” proposes Insel. “We can be transparent [in our designs] … repurpose and reuse materials [and] fixtures … Let’s make it so they can shop and enjoy the experience.”

Source: Nielsen, 2014, “Global Consumers Are Willing to Put Their Money Where Their Heart Is.”

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