Are You Designing and Producing Tomorrow’s Waste Today?

by | Jun 4, 2010

As part of various initiatives to eliminate unnecessary cost and reduce the impact on the environment from their ongoing operations, retailers are setting strategic targets such as “Zero Waste to Landfill” and “Carbon Neutral Stores.”

Whereas there have been significant improvements with the actual buildings where the construction and operating processes can be analysed in great detail, there is no industry standard analytical methodology and measurement system for store equipment in terms of environmental pros and cons. And while the in-store fixtures make up a relatively small part of the overall store’s materials and carbon usage, these units are replaced every few years and thus multiple times in the lifespan of the building.

Spending well over a billion pounds each year on in-store fixtures, furniture and POP units, retailers and brand owners are now faced with dramatically increasing costs for the disposal of their obsolete equipment, and increasing pressure to improve their overall environmental impact.

As a result their designers have a responsibility to employ Design for Waste Minimisation and Recycling principles when creating their new store equipment.

With landfill reaching capacity, retailers and brands need to think hard before specifying new store fixtures, both in terms of material selection and deconstruction aspects. The industry is littered with both branded point of sale items and retail fixtures that may contain recyclable materials and even have fully recyclable components, but are impractical to separate into their constituent parts to allow them to be recycled.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of obsolete equipment is thrown away every year because of a failure to effectively employ sustainable design principles. By consigning materials to landfill we limit the potential for reuse, recycling or recovery of valuable resources. Landfill also increases the demand for new resources and generates more greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, the priority for retailers and brands should be the re-use or complete recycling of all their store fixtures, together with the specification of materials with lower Embodied Energy and Carbon. This should be set firmly as a key objective in all design briefs.

Much of this is common sense as, with reuse, the effective life of the materials is extended and thus amortised costs are spread over a longer period. Reuse, in the waste hierarchy, is generally preferable to recycling, where additional processes are involved, some of which will have their own environmental burdens.

And we do not just refer to the reuse of individual components and materials. Brands and retailers must consider the “Whole Life Cost” of units, and have a responsibility to produce permanent and semi-permanent fixtures and furniture which is flexible enough to allow its useful life to be extended beyond its original purpose. For example, “future proof” the design of counter systems with modular chassis so that they can be re-clad to change the look and IT elements can be upgraded; create promotional units where the branding can be changed for new promotions to help reduce the ever increasing volume of temporary promotional units.

Finally, make sure that your creative team are not constrained in their thinking by existing suppliers’ material preferences or production processes. It is essential that you get the best, most balanced design solution and that a full review of opportunities to re-use existing kit is carried out. The benefits derived from unbiased material selection and construction techniques together with a thorough review of reuse and recycling opportunities will cover any design fees many times over.

Jamie Kennaugh is Design Consultant at Quantum4, a company that provides retailers and brand owners with commercially viable and sustainable design solutions for their store equipment, by combining design, engineering and commercial skills with manufacturing and installation experience. Through Quantum4’s research work and experience of working for half of the Top 10 UK retailers, the company now influences others in developing their design and development policies for more sustainable store fixtures. Jamie can be reached at

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