How To Position Sustainability in Travel Retail in An Authentic Way

[et_pb_section fb_built=”1″ _builder_version=”3.17.6″][et_pb_row _builder_version=”3.17.6″][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”3.17.6″ parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.17.6″]The world is changing. To be fair, it always has and always will. In the world of social media, causes can catch on at a staggering rate. Tap into an audience who all have similar or matching beliefs and values and suddenly you can create a movement pretty quickly.

Topics such as global warming, deforestation, single use plastics, meat consumption to name a few are not new. These were all hot topics when I was a teenager but there wasn’t the medium to push the message like there is today. Greta Thunberg’s message would have been lost had she just taken a stand in her school year. It is the power of social media that broadcast her message to the wider world and people engaged.

Businesses are now seeing an opportunity to piggyback these causes to drive profitability. Caution is needed to ensure that it is expressed in an authentic way.


As global brands seek to drive growth by reflecting the mood of its audience, they adopt positions that will align themselves to the values of their customers. There may be a big drive to move towards reducing micro beads or single use plastics, pushing the environment agenda and moving to electric powered transportation rather than using fossil fuels. But how is that perceived? Do customers see it as a genuine move or do they see it as a marketing message?

In the discussions we have had with shoppers, one thing comes through quite clearly. Whilst they appreciate the efforts that businesses are taking to do the right thing, they see that it is also a drive to boost profits. This calls into question as to whether it is in fact authentic.

As we know, being authentic is key to tapping into and converting some audiences. Are shoppers prepared to have their values hijacked to enable businesses to make more profit?


Travel Retail finds itself in a rather precarious position. Given its nature (serving people who are flying with products that are shipped all over the world), the industry needs to be careful to ensure that it hits just the right note.

Sustainability therefore, should not focus entirely on plastic or recycling. It needs to show that it is an authentic force for good. The ever-expanding network of airports brings much needed jobs to parts of the world. Airports bring trade & tourism and in turn, jobs.

Helping communities is already part of the Travel Retail DNA. From the Love One water sold in World Duty Free in the UK that supports communities in Africa by building wells, through to Hand in Hand for Haiti (, founded by leaders in the industry to create educational opportunities for the children of Haiti after the humanitarian crisis caused by earthquakes.

You Need To Meet Julie Columbino

Recently, through a friend of her husband (Mark Billingham, ex-UK Special Forces and now one of the Directing Staff on the hit TV show SAS: Who Dares Wins), I heard about a very remarkable woman called Julie Columbino.

Julie has spent most of her career fighting poverty. She is a trained disaster responder, working in areas that need a humanitarian response to incidents such as earthquakes. When the earthquake happened in Haiti in 2010, she rushed to help. She was impacted by a woman who said that she needed a job. She wasn’t looking for a handout, she wanted to work. Julie decided to sell up everything and move to Haiti to do something about it. She founded REBUILD Globally in Haiti.

REBUILD is a non-profit organization that provides education and job training to Haiti’s most vulnerable.  The difference with this organization is it does not stop there.  They place each program graduate in a dignified living wage job with their partner, Deux Mains, a for-profit business.  Deux Mains is a fashion company that makes repurposed tire sandals, bags and jewellery.

If you can, I would absolutely encourage you to watch this Ted Talk where she shares her journey. Her commitment and resilience to help people in Haiti is quite incredible. Her passion and mission is to create jobs for the poorest communities to enable them to work their way out of poverty.

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It struck me that supporting social businesses like this could help transform communities and could therefore be considered to be a truly sustainable endeavour. I contacted Julie and asked whether they make shopping bags. Indeed they can (see below), using natural fibres to create an environmentally friendly solution.[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”3.17.6″][et_pb_column type=”1_2″ _builder_version=”3.17.6″ parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on”][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.17.6″ src=””][/et_pb_image][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″ _builder_version=”3.17.6″ parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on”][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.17.6″ src=””][/et_pb_image][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”3.17.6″][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”3.17.6″ parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.17.6″]Given Travel Retail’s connection to Haiti, our channel could support non-profit businesses like this whilst re-enforcing its authentic stance on Sustainability and supporting communities that deliver jobs, schools and education. In a recent project with Coastal Keepers, they created:

  • 22,000 hours of employment
  • All raw materials were sourced locally
  • Saved 3.5 metric tonnes of carbon due to the factory being 100% solar powered.

In addition to this, there has been significant improvement in Gender equality, reduction in domestic violence and women are having more influence in decisions at home. The business pays double the domestic rate and have seen an improvement in the quality of life through better food security, medical needs covered etc.

Shoppers are more inclined to purchase from a business when they know that the impact will deliver for the social good. It can also increase basket spend!


Taking a truly authentic stance on sustainability by reducing waste AND building communities has to be the way forward if big companies want to create a sense of loyalty amongst its customers. Companies that are seen to give back will be the ones that people will choose to shop with.


Breakfast clubs are springing up all over the UK to ensure children from poor communities are able to have a meal at the start of the day. It has been proven to aid concentration and improve the childs ability to learn. It would be amazing to be able to provide a meal at the end of the day for those children who are most at risk. Will I get there? I will try.

For now, we make significant donation of childrens books to schools in the poorest areas nearest to us at Christmas. It doesn’t matter how large or small your business, giving back in terms of time or even as we do, some books. It can make all the difference.

Contact Julie Colombino to find out how she could help you in Travel Retail or to ask her to speak at one your events.

For clarity – One Red Kite do not have a commercial partnership with Julie Colombino, REBUILD or any other company relating to her work. All enquiries should be made to Julie directly.

As ever, thank you for reading.


Featured image: Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash