Real-Time Retail Sustainability

Betsy Stewart

Climate change is one of the most important topics of our time, not only at the personal level, but at the corporate level. Many people are considering how to make a difference, at the same time, many brands are undergoing efforts to measure their environmental impact, and more importantly, reduce it. 

For commerce, is this a tricky situation or a bright opportunity? The nature of the business is production and consumption, after all. Responsible retail entails many factors and even approaching the topic is daunting. But shifts in consumer perspective and legislative mandates make it imperative to not only address, but embrace. The emerging ‘eco-economy’ is an occasion to lead, make money, and gain loyal customers. 

Each generation is becoming progressively more Earth-conscious, as they should be. A statistic from the United Nations: If the global population reaches 9.8 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets will be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.​ The grim news is not new. Taking this to heart in particular, people born between 1995 and 2010 are placing their investments and energy into more sustainable lifestyles - and influencing others to do the same. 

For businesses, meeting evolving expectations must go beyond virtue signaling and will increasingly become an issue of both consumer demand and legal compliance. Legislative initiatives are increasing around the world with the EU advancing laws that address many aspects of commerce, from green claims initiatives to packaging waste. In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has proposed requirements for businesses to disclose details about direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions in addition to supply chain transparency. 

How do brands approach the goal of supporting a low-carbon economy? Can a sustainable business model be the default? To start: talk about it. Increase education and awareness, connect the topic to business. “Sustainability and business are going in the direction of becoming synonymous,” according to Ashton Hubbard, Wunderman Thompson’s Director of Sustainable Commerce. “The more sustainable and efficient, the more profitable.” 

Tactically, engage vendors on the leading edge of data-based solutions. Ensure technology providers are innovation leaders. Expect consultants to prioritize creative solutions and guide tangible action. And however overwhelming, start. “Break it down into component parts. Leading in this sector is a differentiator and business driver. It’s an opportunity for business optimization and a cost-to-serve reduction,” says Namrata Saandhu, co-founder and CEO of Vaayu Tech

Also, incorporate the seriousness of it. The world is warming. With rising greenhouse gas emissions, climate change is occurring at rates much faster than anticipated and its effects are clearly felt worldwide.​ Pivoting from a global perspective provides a strategic north star. The UN has established 17 sustainable development goals to transform the world. Two of these priorities correspond to the principles for Wunderman Thompson’s Sustainable Commerce practice: 1. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. 2. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. 

In partnership with Vaayu, Wunderman Thompson supports clients within these global themes by addressing emissions data and offering carbon reduction tools. Named one of the best inventions of 2022 by Time Magazine, Vaayu Tech is the developer of automated software to track and identify carbon emissions reduction strategies in real-time. Their platform was designed specifically for retailers. “Vaayu even offers consumer-facing metrics, so shoppers can evaluate the footprint of products and delivery methods before they purchase.” At its core, it enables better choices.

And we have the choice. Consumers can choose brands that offer eco-friendly shipping and packaging. Within a ‘take-make-dispose’ society, they can be vocal about recommerce. They can influence their social sphere. They can expect complete recyclability information. Ultimately, they can choose the product with the smaller carbon footprint.

Vaayu’s technology is an aspect of the solution. This data informs real-time actions. This platform provides internal and external visibility. This is a tangible way to increase transparency and add value. “We're offering our clients this amazing capability to strategically reduce their carbon footprint while also optimizing the business. There’s nothing like it on the market,” said Ashton Hubbard.

Companies across industries have the opportunity to address global concerns while growing the bottom line, increasing customer affinity, and building brand trust. Share the low-carbon journey with customers, be transparent. “It's very much about enabling businesses to use data to communicate. And that's the most robust way to talk about what you do. Nothing speaks more clearly and more robustly than this is the number we're at this is how much we reduced [carbon emissions],” says Namrata Saandhu. 

Sustainability must be an aspect of our lives, our thinking, and our choices. As individuals, as consumers: Speak up and make your money count. Brands and retailers have the opportunity to respond. In a simple summary businesses can: be proactive, lead with innovation, value transparency, and utilize technology for tangible action. 

Promisingly, in multiple ways, consumers and brands align. A lot of people care about the impact of their purchases, including greenhouse gas emissions. Between buyer expectations, regulatory requirements, and a sense of corporate responsibility, brands also care.

Get more details and explore opportunities to impact carbon emissions on this episode of Commerce Confidential. Namrata Saandhu of Vaayu Tech and Ashton Hubbard from Wunderman Thompson Sustainable Commerce discuss the important issue of global warming – and how brands and retailers can make a real-time difference.