Keeping it green: IoT for sustainable retail

By | 3 minute read | January 3, 2018

Stuck for a New Year’s resolution? Shopping more sustainably might be a good one. Especially if you’re suffering pangs of guilt following a Christmas plastic binge (think Christmas cracker toys and disposable cutlery, for instance.) Sustainable retail means many things, from opting for responsibly farmed produce, to keeping an eye on your carbon footprint. And retailers themselves have a part to play, by managing their stores with waste reduction in mind. With all this, the IoT can help. Let’s take a look at some sustainable shopping practices that might find their way into 2018.

Reducing waste in the retail store

Traditional stores and shopping malls face a challenge when it comes to operating sustainably. That’s due partly because a large physical footprint, temperature controlled interiors and lighting are somewhat unavoidable. Such a composition makes for high energy consumption because of sheer size and long opening hours.

As there are so many variables around how a store is used. From the number of people who are inside, to the weather outside, it can be difficult to apportion energy appropriately. It’s not easy to plan which parts of the store will be most visited, and which unused, at what times.

Then, there’s the equipment to maintain. Factor in a fridge with a door that refuses to close, and suddenly there’s yet more wasted energy. The fridge has to work harder to keep its contents cool. And the heating system has to compensate for the sudden drop in temperature.

But this needn’t be the case. By making stores ‘connected’, retailers can more efficiently manage energy and utilities to meet actual demand and avoid unnecessary waste.

What “connected” look like

A connected store is instrumented with sensors that measure data like occupancy in real-time, and transmit it to an IoT platform. When the platform is connected to operational systems like heating and lighting within the stores, it becomes possible to automatically manage those resources according to actual, not anticipated, need.

IoT solutions can help fix our faulty fridge, too, in the form of predictive maintenance. This means that a flaw or fault is spotted as soon as it happens – or better yet, when it’s about to happen – so that it can be attended to. Sensors that detect flaws in the machinery can report to the IoT platform, and automatically trigger a work order for a technician to investigate the issue. There’s no reliance on manual investigation and word-of-mouth reporting.

Helping shoppers make wiser choices

Of course, sustainable retail practices go beyond the stores themselves. As consumers, we also have a choice about the products that we buy. We can choose produce resulting from sustainable agriculture practices, that promote animal welfare and limit use of pesticides and antibiotics, for example. We can opt to buy Fairtrade, or prioritize goods with a low carbon footprint.

It seems that people are generally willing to choose sustainable goods over unethically manufactured ones, even if they come with a heftier price tag. According to a survey by Nielsen, around 75 percent of Millennials and Gen Zers would be willing to pay more for goods that are sustainably sourced.

The spirit is willing, then. But the tricky part is getting the information to help us make these choices. Sure, some labels include small print that tells you where the stuff has come from. But who’s got time to read all that detail? Here, the IoT could help make the process more streamlined, especially when we enlist the help of a smartphone app.

Shoppers could adopt a point-and-shoot method – scanning smart barcodes to instantly pull up key information. You could even make it super simple, by combining various attributes into a 1-5 rating system. A score of 1 is bad, while 5 is good. The rating could take into account factors to form the final score. These could include mileage, carbon footprint, point of origin, and whether or not food produce comes from a farm with a good reputation for humane livestock husbandry.

Hundreds of data points could be combined to give a robust rating that fairly evaluates sustainability based on multiple factors. That way, shoppers can get the key information at a glance. No ploughing through the details. And they’re safe knowing the scores are the result of thorough research.

The future of sustainable shopping

While some of these solutions aren’t yet widely used, the connected store is fast becoming a reality. IBM and Honeywell have been working together to achieve this, as you can see from this video. Meanwhile, you can check out our website to learn more about our other IoT for Retail solutions.