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Covid-19 pandemic could put sustainability progress on hold

By Leonie Barrie | 6 April 2020


Sustainability was the buzzword of 2019 – but could be another of the casualties of the global outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19).


"Making changes to materials, logistics and production processes to improve the sustainability of products and operations will slow, as sustainability is no longer top of retailers' and consumers' agendas," explains Emily Salter, analyst at GlobalData. 


"This is due to long-term adjustments being costly and many non-food retailers will be financially unstable as they emerge from this crisis after a significant period of low or no sales.


"Another issue is the problem of unsold stock that retailers will be stuck with, as all non-essential stores and some websites have ceased trading temporarily. Some items and ranges could be sold at a later date, but this may not be the case for highly seasonal and trend-led pieces, raising questions about how these items will be disposed of. 


"Given Burberry came under fire for burning stock in 2018, retailers must be careful how they deal with this issue. Acting quickly, Kurt Geiger has announced it plans to donate some of its stock to NHS staff, clearing through the excess while also generating positive press."


Additionally, during the outbreak consumers will be less likely or unable to buy second-hand items – sales via some Facebook neighbourhood groups, for instance, are being discouraged or stopped, and willingness may decline after the crisis is over due to lingering concerns about the hygiene of used products.


Salter concludes: "Although sustainability will slowly become more important again once the spread of Covid-19 has ceased, the increased awareness of cleanliness and germs is likely to remain at the forefront of shoppers' minds and will continue to hinder the growth of sustainability initiatives."

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