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Translating sustainability: the role of the retail store

  • Matthias Lehner
Publishing year: 2015
Language: English
Publication/Series: International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Abstract english

Purpose: Retailers are facing pressure to promote sustainable consumption. Building on literature about the role of retailers as “translators” of the sustainability discourse, this article studies how retailers cope with this pressure.

Design/methodology/approach: This study focuses on the Swedish retail sector. In twenty-two interviews with retail representatives and thirteen store observations it explores the way food retailers approach sustainable consumption, particularly focussing on the role retail stores receive in operationalizing sustainable consumption.

Findings: The retail store is identified as important organizational layer within retailers to operationalize sustainable consumption. However, retailers do not acknowledge this potential sufficiently. An idealised model of multi-layered sensemaking to successfully promote sustainable consumption is presented.

Research limitations/implications: The study results only cover a small part of the entire retail organisation and only provide a snapshot in time of their working. Future research should study how the internal process of translating sustainability to the market develops over time and how it is connected to different parts of the retail organisation (e.g. marketing, HR). More research is also necessary to specify the division of responsibilities between HQs and stores.

Practical implications: This article proposes a divide of responsibilities between headquarters and the individual store to better deal with societal pressures and market demand.

Originality/value: The results of this study add depth to the theoretical notions of ‘translation’ and ‘sensemaking’ in retailers’ efforts to promote sustainable consumption. A model for how this process works is provided.


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Sustainable consumption
  • Sensemaking
  • Retail store


  • ISSN: 0959-0552
Matthias Lehner
E-mail: matthias [dot] lehner [at] iiiee [dot] lu [dot] se

International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE)

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