By  on October 30, 2007

Recognizing the potential for cost savings and new markets, European retailers are taking a leadership role in the green movement.

There are rumblings of a green retail revolution in Europe.

Retailers are going beyond just stocking environmentally friendly and ethically oriented products and are repositioning themselves as completely eco-conscious from the factory floor to the eco-friendly store. From introducing organic private label apparel collections to reducing their factories' carbon footprints, retailers are polishing up their ethical credentials, often on several fronts at once.

PPR, which owns Gucci Group and the La Redoute catalogue, recently introduced a new department grouping environmental, social and diversity initiatives. The department — the first of its kind for a French company listed among the country's 40 biggest publicly traded firms, according to its chief executive officer Laurent Claquin — underscores a general move toward a more holistic view of ethical concerns.

For retailers, that means going beyond just offering the token handful of ethical apparel lines they've made available to their customers up to now. German department store Karstadt, for example, plans to introduce its own sustainable label next year. Also, according to industry sources, Galeries Lafayette will debut an eco-fashion concept, including a private label ethical clothing line, in the spring.

"There's no point offering a pair of organic socks, if 99 percent of the offer isn't [organic]," said Hélène Sarfati-Leduc, head of textile projects for Yamana, a sustainable development consultancy.

Similarly, some stores are delving deeper into environmental issues and ensuring their work practices reflect a renewed commitment to green matters.

In the U.K., this month Marks & Spencer unveiled its first green store, which uses energy-efficient appliances, while Tesco began opening stores with carbon footprints some 60 percent lower than its traditional outlets.

"Retailers can't compete on price alone anymore with Asian imports bringing prices down," Sarfati-Leduc said. "They have had to find another way."

More executives are realizing that communicating a meaningful message to customers can only be achieved by tackling environmental and social issues together.

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