vitsoe shelving in a retail interior designed by an architect

How can retail architects design for a sustainable future, moving on from the past’s wasteful install and strip-out approaches?

Retail units change hands quite often. Some stores outgrow their homes, while others may not succeed. With each new store, comes a new layout, interior design and branding. This is an exciting period for the new owner, to make their first physical store or expand their brand to additional locations. For the departing store, this typically means removing fixtures, and materials and turning it back into an empty landlord white box.

This wasteful process is costly for all and ultimately damaging our world. Sustainable retail architects are now designing differently. At Architecture for London, we consider the materials and lifecycle of our retail designs. This aligns well with sustainable brands, B Corp and corporate ESG.

Discover Architecture for London’s retail architecture. If you would like to discuss your project please contact us.

Traditional shop frontage design by london architects with green painted exterior facade
Retail architect designed shop front.

Materials choices for retail architecture

Retail interiors typically involve numerous surfaces and fixtures to accommodate merchandising, branding, POS and division of the shop floor. Therefore a core design consideration is material choice.


When sourced correctly timber is one of the best choices for sustainable interiors and partitions. It’s typically easy to construct on-site. It’s relatively lightweight and naturally free from VOCs which affect air quality.

Recycled plastic

The overuse of plastic fixtures and displays has sadly become common practice in contemporary retail design. Recycled plastic suppliers such as Smile Plastics are an ideal solution for lightweight, flexible, colourful surfaces and displays that are easy to maintain.


Stone has rarely been used in retail design, but stone is one to consider for those looking for solid alternatives to unsustainable materials such as concrete. However, consider the source of your stone; sustainable stone is local stone.


Where metal might be needed, consider if aluminium can give you what you need. Although it takes considerable energy to manufacture it can be easily recycled.

Retail architecture: Lifecycle and waste reduction

With material choices considered the second biggest impact is lifecycle. Sustainable retail architects should consider the future usage of what they design. Can this design be relocated and re-used when the store expands? Could this be re-used by the next brand in the same location?

Architecture for London for Present & Correct created a demountable interior, allowing the lifespan of the project to extend beyond the lease of the location. A muted palette of maple plywood and ash timber is paired with a quarry tile floor, Vitsœ shelving and new LED lighting.

modern Bloomsbury shop refurbishment designed by Architecture for London
Sustainable retail design for Present & Correct.

Indoor environmental quality

With the right material choices, your interiors can be VOC-free. Typically paint finishes that are chosen are not sustainable. Clay paint from brands such Earth Born can be used without affecting air quality.

Sustainable retail site locations

Sustainable retail site locations are increasingly vital as businesses and consumers alike seek to reduce their environmental impact. For retail architects, selecting and designing sites with sustainability in mind involves a holistic approach.

Ensuring the retail site is accessible via public transport reduces reliance on private vehicles, cutting down on carbon emissions. Additionally, sites that utilise natural light and ventilation can significantly reduce energy consumption.

Certified sustainable retail stores

Pursuing certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) can demonstrate a commitment to sustainability.

These certifications often provide a framework for best practices in sustainable site development and building design.

Discover Architecture for London’s retail architecture. If you would like to discuss your project please contact us.