Recycled, up-cycled and eco-friendly retail design ideas

Sustainable, eco-friendly retail interior design is the responsible design choice of the future.

We have identified two distinct trending eco-friendly design tactics.

Firstly, there is a trend for “disposable” design; that is retail design designed to be completely recycled at the end of the retail concepts lifecycle.

Secondly, there is a trend for “durable” design; that is retail interiors consciously designed to adapt and endure through and beyond temporary, contemporary interior design trends.

Disposable design

Retail shop lifecycle are getting shorter. Retail businesses now only last years, even just months (in the case of pop up shops) rather than generations. For this reason alone, completely recyclable interior design solutions make practical, ecological and economical sense.

Disposable retail designs can be made from already recycled materials, or from materials that can be recycled at the end of the project.

Paper and cardboard fittings are the most common materials for truly sustainable disposable retail design.

Recycled cardboard design elements are ideal for short-lived retail interiors. Cardboard is cheap and easy to come by; a key retailer consideration when a retail business is only likely to last a couple of months to years.

Cardboard is lightweight, which makes for fast, easy set up and dismantling. Cardboard and paper is a versatile material, lending itself to almost unlimited retail designs and styles. Furthermore, cardboard, if used raw and untreated, is completely recyclable – and, ultimately bio degradable.

Here are a of our favourite, creative examples of disposable retail design:

Aesop Botanicals

eco friendly retail design
This sustainable store design puts the product, botanical skin care products, front and centre.

The shelving is made simply from cardboard boxing, which makes the simply branded product stand out.

The ceiling is covered with a glorious, opulent display of the brand’s empty glass bottles. Both the bottles and the cardboard displays can be recycled.

This design shows how opulent disposable design can look.

Pieknalia cosmetics boutique
sustainable retail design
This innovative, sustainable design incorporates fire-treated straw bails as the basis for the retail design. Display boxes are simply slotted in between the bails to form shelving that is easy to set up, move and re-arrange.

What is more, the straw ads a distinct and attractive design element to the store – proving that sustainable design can be eco-friendly and design-forward at the same time.

Scrumptious Read Paper Cups catering shop
green retail design

This retail interior is designed almost completely using recycled paper cups.

The design is low on cost and high on creativity.

The shop can be dismantled and recycled again with ease.

This is a great example of using the product itself as part of the retail fit-out – great marketing and cost-savings in one.

The Foldaway Bookshop
eco retail design
The Foldaway Bookshop is a mobile, portable, compact and completely recyclable cardboard shop design.

The design uses corrugated cardboard folded in a concertina to form the ultimate portable pop up shop shelving system.

The shop can be moved, re-used or recycled with convenience.


Durable design

Durable design is the opposite approach to sustainability. Designers who follow this trend look to create retail interiors that will last decades or more. Designers do this by creating clean, modular interiors that can grow, adapt and stand the test of time.

Clean, neutral, timeless colour schemes, simple modular fittings and durable, good quality materials are key to “slow design”.

When approaching sustainable design from this angle, the designer needs to make sure that the space can change superficially, through clever lighting and contemporary accents, to keep the retail interior on trend and attractive to evolving consumer tastes and preferences, without major changes to the underlying design.

If a retail fit-out lasts a long time without needing to be replaced, a retail designer can even use non-renewable materials with good conscience. This approach is more costly than disposable design, but the costs can be offset against quality, yielding the retailer a long-term return on investment.

Here follow a few examples of long-term minded retail design:

Issey Miyake Japan

This boutique has been designed around a minimalist, white modular shelving system.

The plain white interior recedes into the background, making the merchandise pop off the shelves.

The modular shelving can be moved and re-arranged at will, allowing the retailer endless display options to keep the interior fresh for many seasons.

Wooden Orchids concept mall

This store is a futuristic retail concept by Vincent Callebaut.

The vision is to turn the mall interior into a living, growing farm and marketplace in one – giving new meaning to “fresh” produce straight from the farm into the customers shopping basket.

The interior is designed to emulate nature and to become a catalyst for organic growth. The shop will literally grow, change and develop day by day, ensuring the project’s longevity.

The shop will run entirely on renewable energy.

Durable or Disposable design?

Both techniques have a place, depending on your vision for your retail brand.

Disposable, recyclable design is best for temporary retail installations, such pop up shops, kiosks and exhibitions, as well as new experimental or trend-driven retail businesses with shorter life cycles.

Durable design is best for mall tenant retailers who plan to be in business in the same location for a long time. Even if the retailer vacates the premises, a good durable retail design will be able to be adapted for the next tenant without the addition of large quantities of expensive, valuable non-renewable resources. A good durable retail design should be able to be built upon and around for generations to come while still remaining relevant to the changing design trends at its core.

Contact us to create a unique sustainable interior for your brand.