In the last year, I have talked with many retailers who are working towards sustainability goals. Important drivers for such goals include corporate purpose, reputation and/or rapidly increasing demands from stakeholders at large either because sustainability is synonymous with their brand, or because their customers are using sustainability as one of their buying criteria, but rarely because the retailer believes they can save money at the store level.  

When talking with those where sustainability is core to their beliefs, I also generally find that their focus is on the processes and materials used in the manufacture of products. Do the fabric and dyes support sustainability objectives, is water appropriately managed, does the manufacturing advance social and environmental responsibility and business ethics?  

Sustainability is top of mind 

Importantly, they are also interested in how striving for sustainability can support profitability and reduced costs, including at the store level. At Cisco, we believe sustainability is critical for the planet and our future, and also a business imperative. Among other, sustainability benefits can be supported at the corporate Headquarters and Contact Center through deploying smart-building technology and cloud-based contact centers, as well as offering options for hybrid-work.  

What about the store, distribution centers and fleet/logistics, can retail operations reduce cost by engaging in more sustainable practices?   

Newer technology tends to consume less power for the same workload, but there are other considerations that may not require platform replacements. To cite two examples, energy consumption of retail stores can be reduced through: 

  • Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) low-voltage lighting, which is eminently controllable, and the ability to adjust things like refrigeration and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) temperatures in off-hours; and 
  • Shutting down access points (APs) and other equipment when the store is closed. We estimate that powering off 1,000 PoE APs (10 Watts (W) devices for 12 hours each day can lead to energy savings of approximately 43,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year;  

Surprisingly, it is relatively easy to achieve some of these goals without a wholesale technology platform replacement – small changes replicated across stores add up, and Cisco can support with that: 

  • Many Cisco & Meraki APs and PoE switches can already support scheduling; and  
  • Internet-of-Things (IoT) Sensors can allow retailers to monitor their store, distribution center and fleet operations, including– temperature, open/close, vibration, and a host of other applications.  

Harnessing data drives the right engagement 

Moreover, monitoring is good, and anyone who knows me can predict what’s coming… Visibility-Insights-Action:  

In retail we have significant amounts of data, many dashboards, and automation is key, including the progress toward sustainability objectives. Taking data from sensors and other systems, and developing insights from it, can allow the start of automated responses, whether it is: 

  • Sending a message to an associate to take specific actions;  
  • Having the system automatically turn down the lights, turn off the APs and turning up the freezers a couple of degrees after-hours;  
  • Identifying maintenance issues which may result in inefficient power consumption.  

Store automation can reduce the burden on overworked staff and energy usage.  The same can apply in distribution centers. A piece of equipment not performing optimally can consume excess power, and conversely, slowing a conveyer belt during off-hours may save a significant amount of power.  

Furthermore, it is also important to think beyond potential direct savings and look down on the value chain at potential indirect benefits. For example: 

  • The ability to perform automated inventory can drive a more accurate inventory. This may result in a smaller investment in stock-on-hand and potentially in fewer truck rolls;  
  • Alternatively, a retailer may be able to reduce the size of a truck performing replenishment – that can be less fuel; reduced and/or more const efficient labor; reduced road congestion; and reduced emissions. This may be even more significant for segments like grocery stores, where there may be multiple vendors making regular deliveries to the store, whether needing replenishment or not. 

Continue the conversation 

For more information visit Cisco portfolio explorer for retail. Additionally, information regarding Cisco’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, goals and commitments, our latest impact, as well as policies and additional disclosures for specialized audiences, can be found in Cisco’s ESG Reporting Hub and Annual Purpose Report.


Mark Scanlan

Global Industry Lead for Retail

Industry Solutions Group, Cisco Systems