How Data Can Help Ecommerce & Retail Achieve Sustainability Through a 360-degree Approach

The pandemic has thrust sustainability and ethical practices to the forefront of retail and ecommerce. Yet, enterprise leaders continue to grapple with the same historical issues. Blind spots in their supply chains, vagueness of goals, and lack of accountability. But data holds the key to industry conundrums.

ESG dominates business conversation. It is not hard to see why. Consumers are intensely aware of the impact of climate change and expect businesses to act. According to McKinsey, during the pandemic, 65% of German and UK consumers wanted to buy products that lasted longer. This is a nod not only towards the growing cost of living but also sustainable lifestyles. Across the globe, in China, you see the same pattern: 64% of consumers wanted products that are environmentally friendly. The message for businesses is clear.  

The shift in the mood of consumers can be seen reflected in legislation and investor behaviour too. The German Act on “Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains” will come into force in January 2023. Companies with European operations expect a seismic shift and are already lining up their dominoes. Similarly, investors insist on ESG reporting as a key factor before they make an investment.  

Thus, ESG concerns every member of the board and will serve your brand in more than one way: it is good for the environment, for society, for your brand, and for your business future. Yet, despite all these benefits, brands are struggling to get their ESG ship in order 

Data: The Missing Piece of ESG Initiatives and Reporting

Data is always the trickiest part of enterprise-wide initiatives. According to BNP Paribas, “Data Consistency and Quality,” “Inconsistent Data Across Asset Classes,” “Ineffective Data for Scenario Analysis,” and “Conflicting ESG Ratings” feature as the top reasons for why brands struggle with ESG initiatives.           

But data is precisely the key. Through meticulous data capture across the retail and ecommerce life cycle, brands can embed ESG right into the heart of their work. Data can give you a 360-degree view of everything that matters. From the material resourcing and management all the way to the recycling and disposal of your products.  

Capturing the Right Data for Supply Chain Visibility

Using technologies like IoT and Blockchain, you can obtain remarkable visibility into your supply chain. Consider this use case from Deloitte, for example. It can tell you exactly where your materials are being sourced from, allow you to forecast and match your inventory level with supply needs, ensure quality compliance, cut down paperwork, and guarantee that third parties are abiding by the contract terms. In one fell swoop, you’d have not only addressed your ESG needs, but also ensured that your efficiency, margins and reputation are all safe.  

However, the true strength of this data-centred approach comes to the fore in reporting. You can give regulators and investors a granular view of your supply chain. Finance Leaders, in particular, can benefit from this approach.   

Capturing the Right Data for Customer-Centric Manufacturing

Whilst data from your supply chain can help you drive ESG from the frontlines, customer data captured through your digital channels can also help you personalise your product lines. A recent Deloitte study highlighted three important factors:  

1. Customers are willing to part with their data if it means getting a better, more personalised product   

2. Customers are willing to pay a premium of up to 20% for personalised products  

3. Customers will keep and use their personalised product for much longer than they would keep and use a standard one  

This is an enormous opportunity for retail brands. They can bring data right onto the factory floor and ensure that their products are made to meet the exact desire of the consumers. If you’d like to find out how you can do this, start with this introduction from CX pioneers Sitecore. 

Personalisation of product lines will help you in your sustainability drive in more than one way; one, it will ensure that you create product lines that are sure to sell and thereby reduce wastage of material; two, it will ensure that your products are used for longer.  

When a company has accurate historical information about their assets, they can make decisions that increase their ROI. This means servicing an asset that needs service and replacing an asset that needs to be replaced.

Capturing the Right Data for Facilities Management

The facilities where your materials and products are stored have great potential to become greener. If it is a purpose-built facility, then having an intimate knowledge of the ecosystem around isn’t optional. But even otherwise, you have other opportunities to become sustainable.  

Energy efficient appliances and light fixtures, HVAC systems, renewable energy sources, water conservation systems, and responsible chemical and other waste disposal, each provides you with a starting point.

Modern facility management practices can help you ensure that your facility and assets don’t spring any surprises and drain you of resources. To quote Alan Cambridge, the CFO of Peacock Engineering,“When a company has accurate historical information about their assets, they can make decisions that increase their ROI. This means servicing an asset that needs service and replacing an asset that needs to be replaced.” 

Capturing the Right Data for Delivery and Disposal 

Finally, data can also help you streamline your product delivery routes. Once again, tracking technologies and Blockchain can provide you with ways to plan and co-ordinate your product delivery, helping you not only reduce emissions but also your overheads.  

Alongside customised products, recyclable and recycled material (both in the packaging and the actual product), extended warranties, and exchange offers can help you become a more sustainable brand.  

What Can You Do Next?  

Opportunities for sustainable innovation are wide open for retail and ecommerce brands. And there’s always new events going on where you can be inspired by new ideas. Just like the Earthrise Summit, set to happen on the 28 September 2022.  

With a focus on urban futures, business leaders, investors, academics, UK and UN politicians, and change makers in the sustainability space are meeting to map the pathway to reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and consider all aspects of the urgent human response to climate change. 

The full-day event, screened to six international stages (London, Berlin, LA, New York, Manchester, Dublin), will bring together some of the most inspiring industry-leaders in sustainability and urban innovation across headline virtual stages, fireside Q&As, panels and curated workshops.