We all want to be more sustainable in our day-to-day lives, as consumers and businesses. In fact, I typically consider a new brand or product specifically because of its sustainability practices. And I know I’m not alone. Many of my friends and colleagues share that they like to learn about a brand’s sustainability practices before they buy it for the first time. Being thoughtful about how your company addresses these seven sustainability initiatives can lead to better business, and help you build a brand with purpose.
- Meeting consumer expectations—better for me, better for the planet
We’ve all heard the old adage that the customer is always right! Here it’s consumers asking retailers and consumer goods companies to produce products that are better for me and better for the planet. Whether it’s with healthier snacks and alternatives to meat or sugary drinks; or clean beauty products and vitamin supplements, we’re seeing transformation across a wide array of product portfolios and assortments. We’re also seeing increased interest from consumers for “green” labeling—transparency to make the most sustainable choice—products that have been made with the least impact to the earth.
- Carbon, water, and waste measurement and reduction
For many retailers and consumer goods, there’s a concentration of carbon emissions, water usage, and waste produced in the manufacturing and supply chain processes. So many are looking for opportunities to improve measurement granularity and timeliness—whether from farms, factories, or fleets—to understand baseline metrics, set corporate, divisional, or product line goals, and improve them over time. The Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and real-time measurement can be the key to meeting sustainability goals.
- Sustainable and transparent sourcing
The ingredients or raw materials used to produce the products we know and love are often the not-so-secret ingredient to a sustainable product. Whether it’s sugar, dairy, cocoa, coffee, fish, cotton, or leather, a raw material or ingredient’s origin is becoming as critical to the consumer selection process as the caloric content or fit and finish. More and more retailers and consumer goods companies are investing in sustainable farming, forestry, fishing, and sourcing to ensure a quality (and traceable, transparent) supply will be available for years to come.
- Improved demand forecasting for less waste
It seems obvious, but if you can order or produce the right amount of an item or product, you’re likely to have less wasted materials or inventory that ends up in landfills. But accurate demand forecasting is challenging in the best of times, with shocks to loyalty, supply chain constrictions, and demand spikes brought on by the pandemic, it’s become increasingly elusive. Several companies have emerged to apply sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) to improved forecasting and even markdown optimization to reduce food and product waste.
What’s better than buying something once? Buying it again! Only it could be a neighbor enjoying the experience the second time around. While resale of gently used products has been a mainstay for some time in categories like electronics and sporting goods, it’s quickly becoming popular with fashion, accessories, and home furnishings. Re-commerce extends the life of a product, reducing its overall carbon footprint, but also prevents items from stacking up in landfills. But challenges with reverse logistics have long plagued retailers, who now need to maintain even greater traceability of the product’s full lifecycle to ensure the authenticity of resold products.
- Sustainable and re-usable packaging
We’re all accustomed to paper and plastic packaging for most household products. Many retail and consumer goods companies are innovating with more recyclable and sustainable packaging and shipping materials. But what if containers and dispensers themselves were re-usable, not just easier to recycle or compost? And better yet, IoT-enabled to understand consumption patterns and trigger re-ordering? Having the product you need, with a lower environmental impact sounds like a win-win. Especially if re-usable dispensers can facilitate shipping refills with lower water content or packaging.
- Green buildings and remote work
As we all shifted to remote work through the pandemic, retailers and consumer goods companies are realizing new ways of promoting engagement and productivity even remotely. Remote work and meetings can have a meaningful impact on the carbon emissions related to business travel. And as workers return to office buildings, stores, and warehouses, there’s new and renewed focus on green buildings and energy saving technologies like IoT command and control solutions that can monitor energy usage in real time and provide reduction recommendations.
Sustainability has been steadily rising to the top of the priority list for consumers. The ongoing pandemic has reminded our society that humans can be out of touch with their environment and the importance of re-establishing a healthy balance. Retailers and consumer brands have the opportunity to engage consumers while they are in this mindset—start sharing your goals, taking action on them and promote your progress. There’s a valuable audience waiting for your voice, and they want to hear it more than ever before.
The Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, announced in July 2021, provides comprehensive, integrated, and automated sustainability management for organizations at any stage of the sustainability journey. It’s designed to streamline the process for businesses to collect data, analyze data, and turn insights into action. The Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability will enable you to more effectively record, report, and reduce your emissions on a path to net zero, with future to support water and waste tracking.
Go to Microsoft.com/sustainability to sign up for ongoing updates. Also, visit our website to learn more about how Microsoft is enabling consumer goods organizations to achieve more and to discover how Microsoft Cloud for Retail brings together different data sources across the retail value chain and uniquely connects experiences across the end-to-end shopper journey.