The global consumer market has moved more and more toward ubiquitous connectivity, on-demand shopping, and instant fulfillment, particularly in the last 18 months. These market changes bring environmental impacts that include higher carbon emissions from production and supply-chain operations and increasing amounts of waste from products with shorter lifecycles and single-use packaging.

Sustainability initiatives in retail initially focused on reducing packaging or using recyclable materials in products. In the last decade, efforts have expanded to include building more efficient and “green” facilities, utilizing renewable energy, and implementing product recycling and circular-economy principles. More recently, efforts to reduce emissions from shipping and delivery vehicles have expanded to initiatives that reduce “indirect” emissions, e.g., from customers’ cars idling in drive-throughs and waiting for click-and-collect orders.

Technology that monitors energy and resource use can only take sustainability efforts so far. Using technology to streamline operations and identify efficiencies can have broad impact that, at scale, can have even greater impact than traditional conservation efforts.

Industry POV

COVID-19 has an accelerated technology innovation and utilization in the retail industry. The demand for monitoring social density and improving operational efficiencies has resulted in the development of technology capabilities that retailers can use to better understand and respond to the environmental impact of their operations.

Technology as a platform for sustainability

Technology provides more capabilities to monitor and control systems throughout a retailer’s operations. The ability to measure energy consumption, control HVAC systems, and automate conservation initiatives are all enabled through connected systems and converged network infrastructures.

Environmental monitoring, control and optimization

These connected systems also provide more effective safety and security programs as many of the sensors and systems can be used to monitor for air quality, temperature, smoke, etc. Having the ability to proactively and continuously monitor these conditions gives retailers the ability to act upon those insights through automated responses or by alerting personnel about a potential issue. For example, the lights and temperature for an unoccupied facility or section of a warehouse could be adjusted to save energy. Similarly, monitoring equipment or environmental conditions could give an early indicator of potential issues that can be addressed, reducing spoilage or other wasted resources that may be required to repair or replace equipment.


While retailers have limited ability to affect the types of packaging used by the manufacturers of the products they sell, they can adopt environmentally-friendly packaging for their white-label and private brands. These brands are some of the fastest-growing product lines for retailers and provide new opportunities to adopt and promote conservation efforts.

Retailers have much more control over the packaging and means of transport between stores and in their direct-to-consumer deliveries. Utilizing reusable totes and biodegradable packaging in these channels can also significantly reduce waste.

Better service leads to a better environment

Reducing the amount of time customers spend waiting for orders, in drive-through lanes or in click-and-collect parking spaces, reduces the time cars spend idling. Worldwide, estimates show that idling vehicles consume approximately 30 billion gallons (113.6 billion liters) of gasoline, generating 300 million tons (266.6 billion kg) of CO2.

Retailers can reduce the amount of time customers are waiting by improving the efficiencies of their fulfillment processes. Using video analytics can help retailers reduce overall service times by reducing the time between customer arrival and associate response. Using associate-communication devices to implement more efficient workflows also reduces the amount of time it takes to fulfill orders. Retailers can also use technology to send messages via mobile apps and text messages reminding customers to turn off their vehicles while waiting, further reducing idle-time emissions.

Conclusion and additional resources

Retail organizations are developing strategies for more sustainable products and operations: reducing environmental impact by building more efficient stores and facilities, using electric vehicles in supply-chain and fulfillment operations, choosing sustainable packaging, and implementing more efficient processes across their operations.

By using technology to give better visibility into their operations, retailers can monitor the impact these initiatives have on their sustainability goals. Technology can also help them identify even more ways to reduce energy consumption and provide better service to customers.

See the below resources that show how Cisco is powering an inclusive and sustainable future for all.

Leading the IT Industry in Combating Climate Change – Cisco Achieves 100% Renewable Energy in U.S
Driving an inclusive recovery: How can Europe secure a digital and sustainable future for all?
Cisco Commits $100 Million to Help Address Climate Crisis


Mark Scanlan

Global Industry Lead for Retail

Industry Solutions Group, Cisco Systems