Sustainability is a global effort, and so is finding solutions. Some of them, developed primarily in Europe, are ready for export to retailers in the United States.
There's the Mini Maxi, a nylon shopping bag that folds up into a small keychain pouch. Developed by German design firm Reisenthel, this colorful, portable alternative to the plastic tote has caught on in Europe and is now making its way stateside. Websites like reusablebags.com are selling the Mini Maxi, as are various design-conscious retailers like The Container Store.
Iris Rademacher, director of international sales at Reisenthel, said consumers want to buy environmentally sound products, but they're often reluctant to sacrifice appearances. Her company focuses on combining both elements.
“As consumers become more environmentally conscious, [we are] providing an outlet for them to help conserve while still remaining stylish,” said Rademacher.
Then there are companies that have started thinking outside the bag. British supermarket retailer Waitrose recently started rolling out take-home trailers, which hook onto the back of a bicycle. Customers can rent a trailer, fill it up with groceries, then bike home with the trailer in tow and return it within three days. Last month, Cambridge became the fourth city in England to welcome Waitrose's innovation, citing the addition as part of a wider effort to reduce the city's carbon output.
Tesco is another British retailer that's put sustainability front and center. Last year the company announced a lineup of energy-saving measures for itself, including using more efficient refrigeration. Shipping methods were also revamped to be more environmentally friendly. Among the initiatives was a plan to scale down the chain's reliance on air transport to less than 1% of products. Tesco has also brought this mission to the consumer through labeling and price reductions. The retailer recently cut the price of energy-efficient light bulbs in half, and it plans to label each product with a carbon footprint.