Transformational sustainability, rather than just paying lip service to the issue, is still several years away and could mean price rises, a UK retailer survey shows.

Exactly two-thirds of retailers says three years is the bare minimum time they need to transform their operations and products to be sustainable, according to a survey conducted by the organiser of Pure London and Spring and Autumn Fair, ITE Group.

It spoke to almost 1,900 UK retailers of all sizes and found that 73% have already made changes to head towards a more sustainable future. while retailers want to increase their sustainable products by a third on average by the end of next year. Fashion retailers specifically are at the forefront of this and are aiming to increase their sustainable offer by 40%.

Sustainability has become one of the biggest issues in the industry in recent years as consumers increasingly demand an eco approach, while company employees are also seeking eco-focused companies to work for. And although government seems to blow hot and cold on the issue, the chances of regulatory changes in the years ahead are growing too.

Julie Driscoll, UK Regional Director for ITE Group, said: “Our study confirms that the UK retail industry is passionate about taking action on sustainability. However, there are significant barriers to overcome. To achieve true sustainability takes significant resource, time and investment, arguably, it’s a continuous process for improvement, rather than a destination. Retailers aren’t shying away from that responsibility, but they are being realistic when it comes to how quickly the change can happen.”

Other study findings include 54% of survey respondents having reduced the use of environmentally damaging materials in their products.

But while there’s universal recognition of the importance of sustainability, there’s also a downside. Respondents estimated that to make their products sustainable they would have to increase retail prices by 19% on average, yet they think consumers would only be willing to pay 9% more for those products. And supplier cooperation is crucial as 20% of retailers believe the failure of suppliers to act sustainably or transparently is the biggest challenge.

ITE has been focusing on sustainability issues itself and has an ongoing Power of One campaign to highlight these and to educate/upskill retailers and suppliers on the subject.