How Retailers Can Set (and Achieve) Realistic Sustainability Goals
Environmental activists repeatedly target the retail industry — and their message is important and effective. Carbon emissions, high energy usage, and plastic packaging can contribute to waste in retail supply chains, and retailers need to respond.
While most retailers recognize the benefits of prioritizing sustainability, making organization-wide change is easier said than done. Many sustainability initiatives fail to get off the ground because of poor planning, insufficient budgets, or many other factors. But rest assured, engineering a more sustainable company is possible. By setting and committing to realistic, organization-wide goals, retailers can reduce their carbon footprint and capture the attention of eco-conscious consumers.
Where Retailers Go Wrong With Sustainability
Consumer demand for sustainable products is at an all-time high. While retailers often erroneously believe they can’t profit if they prioritize sustainability, 68 percent of Americans say they would actually pay more for sustainable products.
Most businesses understand this concept — in fact, 96 percent of enterprises have a sustainability program in place. Yet, having a plan doesn’t necessarily yield action. The problem lies in the execution of these programs. The Harris Poll recently found that 72 percent of North American executives believe their organizations gave false or misleading impressions about the status of their green key performance indicators. Based on these numbers, it’s clear many retailers struggle to reach their sustainability goals but still recognize how much their customers value them. This thinking isn’t sustainable — for either the health of your business or the planet.
Some retailers struggle to go green because of a resistance to change. Retail executives are among the least likely to use new technology to reach their sustainability goals. Without a willingness to evolve operations, it’s no surprise that many sustainability initiatives fall flat. To actually move the needle on your sustainability goals, you need to embrace innovations that make reaching them easier.
3 Realistic Sustainability Initiatives Your Organization Can Accomplish
Sustainability can feel like an abstract idea when you’re just starting out. That’s why it’s important to ground the task in reality first. Instead of committing to unrealistic projects, start small with some concrete, actionable goals instead. Most importantly, remember that new technologies can be key to helping you achieve those goals. Here are three initiatives your organization can commit to that will set it on a path toward sustainability:
1. Rethink your shipping practices.
Half of the world’s plastic production is for single-use plastics, and only 14 percent of plastic packaging gets recycled. Much of this waste is the result of split shipments — i.e., using multiple shipping containers for a single order. However, an omnichannel order management system (OMS) can help you reduce the amount of shipping materials you use. The right OMS gives you visibility into product availability across stores, warehouses and distribution centers, enabling you to fulfill orders from a single location rather than splitting a single order into multiple shipments.
You can also reverse engineer the shipping process based on the customer’s location. For example, if a customer submits an order less than a mile from one of your stores, you can ship their order from that store location instead of having to ship from a warehouse that’s farther away. Ultimately, an OMS can connect the dots between your orders, customers and inventory so you can reduce plastic waste and transportation-related carbon emissions.
2. Invest in energy-efficient solutions.
Lighting, heating and cooling comprise the majority of energy costs for retail facilities. Fortunately, though, energy-efficient solutions can reduce utility usage and overhead costs. Water-use regulators, heat-blocking window films, and improved window and door insulation are some effective ways to reduce energy costs in your warehouses and stores.
For better oversight, take advantage of energy monitoring services that offer real-time visibility into energy usage at a certain location. These services make it easier to understand problem areas — like drafts and leaks — so you can nip them in the bud.
3. Inform your customers about your progress.
Telling customers how much your organization values sustainability without having the policies or results to match is a terrible practice. However, being truthful about how you’re addressing environmental concerns, the progress you’re making, and the ultimate goal you’re reaching for are all authentic and effective ways to build trust and brand loyalty with eco-friendly consumers.
Use your company's website, social media channels and email lists to keep your customers updated. For example, you could send out a newsletter to let customers know about your efforts to adopt more energy-efficient solutions at your locations, or you could inform them that you’ll be donating a percentage of each sale to an environmental cause or nonprofit. Regardless of the specifics, be transparent, empathetic and grounded in your sustainability-related communications.
The pressure is on from consumers and investors who want to see the retail industry make improvements in sustainability and climate impact. Therefore, retailers of every size need to commit — and follow through — on achievable initiatives. Fortunately, sustainable shipping, management of environmentally friendly store locations, and transparent customer communication are realistic solutions your organization can implement to make a difference.
Rick Berger is the president of NewStore, an integrated platform offering omnichannel solutions for stores and consumers to deliver amazing shopping experiences, everywhere..
Related story: 4 Ways Retailers Can Embrace Sustainable Last-Mile Delivery
Rick has spent his career working with retailers and fashion brands to harness the power of retail software. As a result, he uniquely understands the important role technology can play in their day-to-day operations.
Prior to joining NewStore, Rick was a founding member of Infor Retail where he ran sales for the Americas. Before that, he held a variety of retail and fashion industry leadership roles at companies such as Oracle Retail, ProfitLogic (acquired by Oracle) and Accenture. Rick earned a B.A. in Business Management/Finance from Brigham Young University and received an M.B.A from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
As President, Rick manages global sales, professional services, customer success, support, training and partnerships.