Sustainable Retail Design with Circular Design and Fit-Out Strategies

How to make sustainable retail design happen in your brick-and-mortar stores

Sustainable. Environmentally-friendly. Green. Reuse. Reduce. Repurpose. Recycle.

Not buzz words. Not marketing hype. People care about these words. People who you want to shop in your stores and support your brand care about these words.

So, you need to care about these words. You have no other option. The future of your brand depends on it.

Strong statement? Possibly. Or are we simply stating reality? Flip open the New York Times, Washington Post or Los Angeles Times –  climate change, environmental awareness, and reducing our impact are the real deal.

The good news is you can do something about this. Along with paying attention to the lifecycle of your products and minimizing your packaging, you can make a real impact by reducing your retail design waste.

Circular retail design and fit-out is the next step in sustainable retail.

What is Circular Fit-Out?

Circular fit-out is a retail design strategy that emphasizes reusing, repurposing, and recycling design elements such as fixtures, window displays, pop-up structures, millwork, and graphics.

Embodying the principles of the circular economy, circular fit-out and retail design aims to maximize the value of all retail design materials.

This does not mean you can never change your window display or need to stop using seasonal design strategies. However, it’s crucial to move away from single-purpose design and fixture elements.

It can be as straight-forward as these circular fit-out examples for real life brick-and-mortar stores:

  • Hanging leased art from local art galleries on your walls.
  • Adaptable and modular displays that can be easily adjusted to meet new product and promotional needs.
  • Prioritizing sustainable millwork and recycled materials for shelving and display units.
  • Leasing seasonal window display elements and using digital signage.
  • Recycling fixtures such as shelving, racks, or display units into your community, donating them to community centers, schools, or other groups.
  • Designing your pop-ups for easy disassembly and repurposing.
  • Using VR, AR, and other technology to deliver the entertainment and personalization customers want.  

Three Main Principles of a Circular Economy

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a charity committed to helping people and companies realize a circular economy.

Here is how the Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines the three main principles of a circular economy:

The circular economy is based on three principles, driven by design:

  • Eliminate waste and pollution
  • Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
  • Regenerate nature

Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials, the circular economy is a resilient system that is good for business, people, and the environment.

When applied to retail design and fit-out, the principles of the circular economy naturally enable sustainable retail. From your supply chain, products you sell, visual merchandising strategies, packaging, and return policies – sustainability is built-in and does not need to be forced.

Ultimately this translates to good business sense – you get a higher ROI on your retail fit-out, your customers like your ethos and want to support you, and your ability to respond to market forces, supply chain disruption, and trends increases by the virtue of your modular, adaptable, forward-thinking design approach.

Circular Design and Fit-Out Strategies for Modern Retailers

We get it – it’s not easy to move from a linear to a circular retail design strategy. Change is not easy. But in terms of sustainability for both your brand, customer base, and the environment – you really have no other choice.

The retailers and brands who keep doing what they have always done – buying, using once, discarding, and repeating will soon be victims of their own material excess.

As you think about your holiday window displays, seasonal promotions, and your overall visual merchandising strategy, make sure you prioritize these circular design principles and strategies:

  1. Sustainable, responsibly sourced materials, fixtures, millwork, and design elements.
    Be like Stella McCartney and use biodegradable mannequins, wall panels made from papier-mache, and recycled foam.

  2. Modular future-proofing design for recyclability, repurposing, and reuse.
    Be like LEGO and use modular fixtures, product displays, and seating that can adjust to product roll-outs and promotions.

  3. Prioritize repair, refurbishment, and preventive maintenance of your fixtures and fittings.
    Be like Estee Lauder and rely on Dynamic for preventive maintenance of fixtures and fittings, ensuring they remain durable, on-brand, and of high quality.

  4. Energy efficiency is built-in to lighting, heating, cooling, and visual design elements.
    Be like your local coffee shop with its living green walls, dimmed lighting, open windows, and LEED certification.

  5. Forward-thinking design and merchandising ethos that enables ease of adaptability, repurposing, durability, and agility.
    Be like Nike and use repurposed electronic waste and construction products to create a unique design statement, publish your own guide to circular design principles, and making it easy for customers to refurbish products to extend their lifespan.

  6. Smart use of technology to limit waste and support evolving merchandising and branding strategies.
    Be like IKEA, Nike, Harrods, and Saks Fifth Avenue and use virtual reality and augmented reality installations for fitting rooms, interactive window displays, and sustainable retailtainment.

How To Make Circular Sustainable Retail Design Happen

Let’s face facts – it takes work to make circular sustainable retail happen. It’s about more than eliminating plastic bags or dimming your lights. (These are a good start though…)

To make circular sustainable retail design happen, do this:

  1. Make sustainability and circularity a top-down focus. Your entire executive team needs to be on-board. It takes new approaches to sourcing, supply chain management, design, branding, and partner relationships to make this happen.

  2. Assess your current environmental impacts. Know where your waste is. How and where are your fixtures, fitting, and millwork designed, sourced, and manufactured? What happens to fixtures and fittings after a store redesign and rebrand? How can your pop-ups and store-in-store installations be reimagined and repurposed for longevity and durability?

  3. Do it for the right reasons. Do not prioritize sustainable design and circularity for the sake of marketing and brand storytelling. Your customers will see through it. And your efforts will be backfire.

  4. Remember your brand ethos, customer demographics, and the purpose behind your retail stores. To last for the long-term, sustainable design needs to mesh with your brand vision and design ethos. Forcing upcycled ladders as shelving units or recycling cardboard boxes into display cases does not work for every brand or customer – remember who you are.

  5. Think multifunction, adaptable, and modular. This allows you to more easily repurpose, recycle, reuse, and extend the lifespan of your entire brick-and-mortar space. From making it easy to reconfigure an in-store café to an event space or using fixtures that can be easily dissembled, flat-packed, and reused in another store location.

Circular retail design and fit-out should not be complicated. Keep in mind these keywords and phrases as you prepare to make sustainable retail design your go-to standard:

  • Sustainable
  • Modular
  • Repurpose
  • Reuse
  • Lease
  • Refurbish
  • Ease-of-use
  • VR/AR and digital technology
  • Maximize use
  • Circular

The facts are here for us to see. Changing climate. Excessive amounts of garbage. Polluted oceans. Food shortages. We are in an environmental and climate crisis. You cannot wait to act.

Being an outlier and thinking outside-the-box has never been so important.

At Dynamic, our unique combination of IN-HOUSE offerings makes us your single source provider for all your retail fixture, fitting, and millwork installation needs. No one understands installation better than we do.

Contact us to learn how we handle any aspect of your business – from an individual installation to a global roll-out.