Concerns about the environment have been climbing steadily for years. As scientific studies about the effects of pollution, emissions, and waste on our planet become more frequent, public awareness about the importance of protecting our natural resources has risen. A recent Sensormatic Solutions survey found that 81 percent of consumers said they were concerned about the environment’s future—and many consumers are changing the way they shop and interact with brands with that concern in mind.
Nearly half (49 percent) of those surveyed indicated a belief that the responsibility for leading the charge against climate change falls on corporations, not individuals or government regulators. These shoppers seem to mean it, too. Even more of them—53 percent—said they would be less likely to shop with a brand or store if they discovered that it was not operating sustainably. The verdict is in: sustainability sells.
Beginning the journey
The time has never been better for retailers to start implementing sustainable practices. Still, many retailers find the prospect of beginning a sustainability journey daunting. We all know the commonly promoted solutions: cut waste, save energy, offer sustainable products, and limit greenhouse gas emissions. However, the challenge of actually figuring out where to begin to achieve these goals looms large for retailers who must execute on an enterprise-wide scale.
Luckily, new operational models can provide ample opportunities for retailers to make their operations more sustainable. When thinking of ways to incorporate sustainability, many retailers jump to packaging and transportation as ways to reduce their carbon footprint. These are great places to start, but the efforts don’t need to end there.
There are other opportunities for retailers to promote sustainability through their day-to-day activities. For example, source tag recirculation allows retailers to return RFID tags taken off items to be cleaned, sorted and reused. The recycling process helps retailers reduce plastic waste that would end up in landfills. Additionally, in a tag recirculation program, RFID hard tags are applied to merchandise by the manufacturer rather than by retail employees, reducing the labor needed in-store to apply tags and minimizing shrink for retailers.
Another option for retailers looking to reduce energy use is replacing lighting fixtures with more energy-efficient options and automating systems, so displays are only illuminated when needed. Intelligent lighting systems can be integrated with timers, motion-activated, or based on reliable traffic patterns. It’s simple but effective at reducing energy use, especially in stores that have long periods without many customers inside them—like 24-hour retailers that may have lulls during overnight hours.
Going the extra mile with AI
Retailers’ plans for sustainable operations do not have to stop with cutting plastic waste and energy use. Today’s technology can kick automation into overdrive using advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence to power operational improvements throughout the retail enterprise.
Inventory intelligence solutions provide real-time insights that work to reduce waste and carbon emissions throughout an entire supply chain. For example, implementing RFID technology for loss prevention can help retailers optimize stocking procedures to ensure high-demand items are always on the floor and available when consumers want them. Doing this reduces wasted shopper visits, which means fewer CO2 emissions.
AI-enabled computer vision solutions can monitor everything happening throughout a store’s floor to optimize the building in real-time. These systems can use historical and real-time data to anticipate traffic patterns, identify customer needs, and inform labor allocation plans to make every sale more streamlined and sustainable. By leveraging data to track shopper insights, leaders can make smarter decisions about their stores and properties.
The meaning of sustainability
With all eyes on brands’ efforts to address sustainability concerns, it may help to know that consumers do not hold just one definition of sustainable operations. According to our survey, shoppers recognize that not all sustainable solutions are viable for all brands. Consumers want to see retailers and other corporations stepping up to the plate to lead the charge toward a healthier, more sustainable future.
Modern technology has put a wide range of tools and operational models at retailers’ fingertips. Brands can take the time to evaluate what will work for them and be transparent about the methods they choose and their reasoning. Each retailer can identify a unique combination of AI solutions, strategic supply chain partnerships, and shopper journey enhancements that will translate to a significant positive impact on the enterprise, customers, and the planet.
About the author: Kim Melvin is a global leader of marketing at Sensormatic Solutions.