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From upcycling to green energy

Sustainable interior design for retail stores is on the rise

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What was once mainly associated with health food and thrift stores is now in great demand in many sectors: a retail store interior design that is sustainable and resource-efficient but still has mainstream appeal. The idea is that innovative designs, concepts and materials help to create an interior construction that visibly and measurably protects the climate. What does this look like in practice? And what design possibilities does it open up? Find out here.

Wood store interior by Markus Loke on Unsplash

Sustainable raw materials as stylish elements for furnishing stores help to protect the climate and create an innovative interior design. (Photo: Marcus Loke on Unsplash)

Why a sustainable store concept is important

Presentation is everything: Store design plays a decisive role in showcasing products and attracting customers. Like entrepreneurs in other industries, retailers are now also having to face the climate question – and not just because sustainability is increasingly important to their customers. Shortages of raw materials and stricter legal requirements are driving growing numbers of companies to rethink their store concepts.

This is creating enormous interest in sustainable retail or sustainable stores. And it makes sense, too. After all, any company that manufactures climate-neutral products or uses renewable raw materials should highlight its environmental credentials in its product presentation. Already a significant factor in the food and fashion industries, it’s now becoming more and more important in the world of interior design. But how do you design a sustainable store?

Retail interior design with recycled materials

As supplies of raw materials dwindle and rubbish mountains keep on growing, the circular economy offers solutions:

  • High-quality terrazzo floor slabs , bricks and recycled concrete can be produced from construction waste. These are long-lasting, stylish and – especially in the case of concrete – energy-efficient alternatives: Concrete stores warmth and cools the interior in the summer.
  • PVC or vinyl floor coverings can also be recycled. The flooring supplier Tarkett produces new vinyl floor coverings from old ones – they have been used as sustainable flooring in an IKEA store, among other buildings.
  • Every year millions of tonnes of clothing end up in the rubbish. But the fibres can be recycled in many different ways. For example, they can be made into curtains, such as those used by the fashion label United Colors of Benetton in its changing rooms. The Danish company Kvadrat Really even recycles textiles and shoes into board, which can be used to create sturdy shelving, counters and more for green store concepts.

From PET bottles to wall plugs and fishing nets, plastic is the big problem of our times, but it can be turned into pellets and used to manufacture new products – such as furniture, textiles and accessories.

Concrete staircase complex for a sustainable store concept by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

As a recycled product, concrete is not just a long-lasting and insulating material for a sustainable store – it has excellent energy-saving properties, too. (Photo: Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash)

Renewable raw materials in sustainable stores

Another exciting solution: building the store from alternative materials that regrow quickly or are even compostable . The following companies show how these ideas can be put into action:

  • Vaude, a German outdoor clothing supplier, has used linoleum made from linseed oil, natural resin and FSC-certified regional ash wood to construct its sustainable store concept. The retailer also uses green energy for its lighting.
  • Hess Natur, a mail order company specialising in natural fashion and home textiles, chose materials that are 100% regional and biodegradable to furnish its first concept store – even including checkout counters made from rammed earth.

The Vitra Circle Stores stand out thanks to their minimalist interior design, which features chipboard made from waste wood. And they sell used display and exhibition items of designer furniture exclusively, in line with the principles of the circular economy .

The sustainable store: tips and inspiration

So, how do you create a sustainable store concept? Your product range should be the foundation. If you stock a climate-neutral product, you can present it accordingly. This can be taken a step further by using green electricity, for instance by installing your own solar panels on the store’s roof or opting for wind energy from the grid.

When choosing the materials for the store’s interior decor, depending on your budget, you can use alternative construction materials such as hemp , rapidly regrowing bamboo or recycled plastic. Make long-lasting your mantra when you’re furnishing the store – this goes for everything from a robust covering for the floors to modular systems and high-quality workmanship for the shop furniture. In addition, the furnishings should be recyclable or compostable where possible – in other words: primarily natural materials that are free from harmful substances.

You can create a stylish, sustainable ambience with second-hand furniture, nature-inspired designs and plants – and whether you sell electronic appliances, textiles or furniture, offering a take-back service gives your customers the chance to save what would otherwise be considered “waste” for reuse.

Sustainable wooden chairs in front of stylish privacy screen by Dario Gomez on Unsplash

Wood used as an alternative raw material in furniture creates a warm and stylish ambience in a sustainable store concept. (Photo: Dario Gomez on Unsplash)

A management system for green store concepts

When it comes to putting these ideas into practice, retailers and wholesalers are naturally not alone. Growing numbers of design studios, consultancies, agencies and initiatives offer expertise and support for companies that want to create a sustainable store concept. Associations such as grünergriff have specialist knowledge that is specifically geared to the interiors industry. And the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) has developed a system for measuring sustainability in interior construction and ensuring it is attractive to a broad audience. The audited and certified system encompasses 15 criteria from the fields of construction, the environment, the economy and society to provide a holistic perspective on the issue.

The goal behind all these initiatives is to overcome preconceived ideas and demonstrate that a sustainable, long-lasting retail store interior design cuts various costs, attracts customers, increases employee satisfaction and – above all – can be put into practice.

The need for sustainable retail

The idea of the sustainable store may sound like a marketing tool at first – and some companies do indeed treat it like one, hence all the talk of greenwashing. But there’s a real need for sustainable store interior design. Rising energy costs, shortages of raw materials, the new awareness in society and the increasingly visible consequences of climate change call for a new way of thinking. This should ultimately benefit everybody: companies, people and, above all, the environment. You can help pave the way to this future with an intelligently conceived store concept.

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