My recycling bin was always overflowing with cannabis packaging. After a year trying out new strains and super-hyped drops, I stuck to the simple home grow to avoid all the waste caused by my purchases. Sadly, the weed I grow is not nearly as good as what’s being sold out there today. I’m not picky, so it's easy for me to make the green choice, but I know that's not true for most consumers out there.
For those of us who are concerned about the packaging waste the cannabis industry produces, knowing in exact terms if packaging is sustainable helps us make choices that align with our conscience. Knowing exactly what the impact on the waste stream for each product would be would make it easier for me to make my purchases at retailers again, and will make it easier for every consumer to vote with their dollars. An emotional shopping experience that speaks to the values customers have and makes them feel good about their actions, is the key to creating loyalty.
The cannabis retail landscape across Canada is frightening to the mom-and-pop cannabis retail owners. The struggles of operating a brick and mortar business in the last 24 months of the COVID-19 are only the backdrop of a cutthroat competitive environment for retailers. The saturation of storefronts is so dense, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a dispensary. Experts are commenting that we have reached a saturation point. With an increasing amount of competitors next door or across the street, store owners struggle to differentiate.
What can retailers do to attract consumers and prevent the pursuit of constantly lower prices?
Learnings from other discretionary good industries such as fashion teach that if you want to bring shoppers to your store (online or in-person), and keep them coming back, give them the information they are looking for.
Consumers have an unmet need cannabis retailers need to know about. 60% of consumers are willing to change their shopping habits in an effort to become more sustainable. Most of a retailer's impact (as much as 98%) occurs outside of their direct control, but they are the critical purchase point at which this information is needed. Retailers can attract consumers who will change where they shop if they can get the right info. An overwhelming 96% of consumers would like retail brands to help them lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
What's a retailer to do?
Watch them keep coming back through the door.nHelping consumers purchase in alignment with their values gives them a reason to keep coming back.
We all want to feel like we are good people, or at least feel good about ourselves.
Although most of the supply chain will remain opaque to the retailer, they can focus on an area that has drawn much consumer interest - consumer packaging. Providing a retail experience (online social or menus, or in person) that quantifies the impact to the waste stream in apples to apples terms so that consumers can make their own choices addresses sustainability desires by providing transparency.
Providing a gram value for each component of the packaging, and explaining where it's destined to end up: landfill, recycling, or compost, gives the consumer an apples-to-apples comparison and gives them the power to make a choice that feels good to them.
For the last three years, my career in cannabis has focused on how to make the products we buy more planet-positive, and socially impactful. Apical is a social enterprise that helps cannabis brands authentically and transparently adopt social impact disclosure to attract consumers, investment and increase revenues by launching innovative and transparent products and services.
The biggest issue I face in my work is that producers don't share this information, and use the word “sustainable” with impunity. Impact metrics, such as waste stream impact, are essential in achieving our collective goal of the cannabis industry to become more sustainable. The Retail Disclosure Initiative is designed to help retailer’s capitalize on consumers’ desire for sustainability. Together with Regenerative Waste Labs, a circular economy consultancy. Together, they have developed a turnkey solution to help retailers communicate sustainability information.
Their custom framework indicates what the waste stream impact of each product would be, while accounting for planet positive practices currently in use by the LPs. Aqualitas, whose Reef brand utilizes post consumer plastic waste reclaimed from the ocean, will have a lower impact score than other traditional plastic packaging.
Survey after survey from Delitte and McKinsey have demonstrated that an increasing number of consumers want to purchase more sustainable and socially impactful products. Retailers can help the consumer close their intention-action gap in sustainable buying, fundamental to the purchase of sustainable goods.Giving shoppers a moment where they can pat themselves on the back and say "I did my good deed for today" creates an emotional connection that builds loyalty.
We all want to feel like we are good people, or at least feel good about ourselves. Although we can’t change the industry overnight, we can start by building transparency in the industry and around our products. With more information in hand, retailers and consumers can lead the way to more sustainable and inclusive products. The more that is known about the products we buy, the more we can vote with our dollars and push the change we want to see in the industry.
To learn more about how you can differentiate as a retailer with sustainability, reach out to Mika Unterman: firstname.lastname@example.org.