Why Data Is The Key To Driving Sustainability In Retail

Both corporate values and customer expectations are driving more conscious policies and spending to benefit the planet. Here’s how data and analytics are helping retail organizations hit their sustainability targets.

We are entering the age of circular economics where “once is never enough.” Products and businesses will need to be designed for regeneration, rather than produced, delivered, and trashed.

Is your business sustainable, equitable, ethical? These days, does it have a choice not to be?In 2020, interest in “ethical brands” and online shops exploded, growing between 300% and 600% based on Google searches alone.

It can be hard to remember just how much things have changed in the months since the pandemic seized the world. Sustainability is now as much about the resiliency of your business as it is that of the planet—with both benefiting accordingly. Sustainability represents a huge opportunity to serve consumers with what they want, and the world with what it needs, in order to help keep everyone thriving—including your bottom line.

We are entering the age of circular economics where “once is never enough.” Products and businesses will need to be designed for regeneration, rather than produced, delivered, and trashed.

Sustainability is rapidly growing as a way to evaluate the non-financial performance of companies and measure the purpose and values that drive a brand.

Coupled with the ongoing concerns around the environmental impacts of carbon emissions, material waste, energy consumption, and scarce resources, retailers are using the challenges raised by the pandemic as a chance to rewire their systems to drive healthier, sustainable, and more resilient value chains that will allow them to thrive in the future. 

For example, reducing synthetic PVC plastics in products can reduce fossil fuel consumption. Sourcing raw materials ethically and sustainably helps increase supply chain longevity. Providing services that encourage consumers to repair, rather than buy new products, can reduce unnecessary waste.

Such an emphasis on sustainability may seem like a whole new way of doing business that at times runs counter to the conventional practices of the past. Yet if we don’t seriously reconsider the future of business, will there be much of a future for businesses at all?

Building this future will require an entirely new understanding of the components, inputs, and resources that go into a business. This kind of understanding is made possible on the cloud.

Sustainability sells: Consumers are driving new transformation

The turmoil of COVID-19 didn’t just bring social distancing—it marked the beginning of an eco-awakening. The increased attention on health, safety, and well-being sparked a renewed awareness around sustainability, particularly in the personal choices consumers make in their own lives and how those choices impact the environment.

In fact, Google research* shows that people now have a greater appreciation for life, are more aware of how valuable nature is for their mental and physical health, and recognize being sustainable plays a critical role in protecting it. As a result, sustainability is more top of mind than before the pandemic.

Now, shoppers are looking more closely than ever at the products they buy and the brands they support—and they’re ready to make different choices if they don’t like what they find:

  • As mentioned, Google search interest in “ethical brands” and “ethical online shopping” during 2020 grew 300% and 600% compared to the previous year.
  • 1 in 3 shoppers stopped purchasing certain brands or products due to ethical or sustainability related concerns.
  • Nearly 6 in 10 consumers say they are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact.

Retailers were already feeling the pressure to reduce their impact on the environment long before the pandemic. After all, the fashion industry alone accounts for 20% of wastewater and up to 8% of carbon emissions globally. But this new shift in consumer behavior serves as an extra warning that it’s time to accelerate changes now—or pay the price later on. 

And it’s not just consumers looking for a commitment from retailers—suppliers, investors, employees, and policymakers are also expecting tangible, sustainable action from businesses. Sustainability is rapidly growing as a way to evaluate the non-financial performance of companies and measure the purpose and values that drive a brand.

At least 65% of world economies have made 2050 net-zero commitments and new EU regulations even require businesses to disclose ESG data about what and how they operate and manage social and environmental challenges.

These changes are already underway. So how can retail businesses stay ahead of them?

Data is key for doing good for retail and for the planet

Retailers have been pushed to illuminate the murkier aspects of their value chains to strengthen credibility and prove in concrete terms exactly how they are delivering on sustainability. But companies can only manage what they are able to measure, so data is crucial for sustainability efforts.

There is a lot of valuable data that can be generated from the first mile to the last mile of products; from direct energy consumption in stores and in warehouses; to CO2 emissions from supply chains and manufacturing; to the effects of resource procurement. Organizations can also gain insight into upstream and downstream activities, such as product distribution and delivery, consumer disposal of product packaging, and other waste.

Migrating to a sustainable cloud can reduce CO2 emissions by 59 million tons a year, which is equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road, according to Accenture research.

Nearly every aspect of the value chain has the potential to be measured in terms of the impact on the environment as long as companies have the right technologies in place.

Given the public cloud’s inherent efficiencies, it is one of the fastest paths to hit sustainability targets and reduce energy costs. In fact, according to Accenture research, migrating to a sustainable cloud can reduce CO2 emissions by 59 million tons a year, which is equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road.

But the cloud offers other capabilities that benefit the overall sustainability efforts of retailers, too. Namely, the cloud enables a strong data foundation that allows information to be collected, processed, managed, and analyzed in one place.

The reduction of silos and the availability of a single, centralized view of all relevant data creates the end-to-end visibility needed to understand the full environmental impact of business decisions across the value chain.

Here’s how data is helping retail organizations hit their sustainability targets:

  • Lowering carbon emissions and energy usage. Retailers need to accurately measure and understand carbon emissions and energy consumption across thousands of devices, facilities, processes, and locations. By gaining a full picture of carbon emissions, businesses will have the power to optimize and implement sustainable best practices—and track future progress—that will deliver real reductions. For example, data can be used to identify cleaner times of day or lower carbon density regions that can create big opportunities to offset and lower emissions.
  • Reducing waste and optimizing supply chains. There are numerous opportunities for retailers to apply data to supply chain sustainability problems, such as inaccurate demand and inventory planning, manufacturing inefficiencies, packaging or product surplus waste, and more. Integrating data from disparate internal systems, partners and suppliers, and external public sources can help create more sustainable and resilient supply chains. Real-time visibility and advanced analytics enable retailers to drill down into key sustainability metrics, benchmark their progress against other industry players, identify and mitigate risks, and improve overall production quality.
  • Unlocking deep insights for better decision making. Retailers are looking to answer questions about how current processes impact the environment now and how their businesses will be affected by climate change in the future. Leveraging rich datasets about the planet, new AI and machine learning models, and smarter analytics enables them to extract insights and predict outcomes around sustainability, helping them to make better decisions that keep them on track to future goals.

Retailers are already working on sustainability

Putting their vast amount of data to work, retail companies are already starting to harness, organize, and democratize data both within and outside of their organizations, identifying where environmental impact is happening and taking action.

For example, retailers are applying predictive forecasting models to chase down waste to make demand planning more accurate. Understanding what products customers are most likely to buy and where they will purchase can influence decisions about sourcing, where to place inventory, and optimize shipments and deliveries. It also provides a more personalized product selection, keeping both customers and suppliers happy.

Retailers can also reimagine last-mile delivery packaging. For instance, intelligent packing recommendation (IPR) solutions can analyze the physical dimensions of every SKU, packing materials, and other properties like fragility and temperature to make sure every box is optimally packed. Google Cloud research shows that IPR brings significant savings and an improved customer experience, reducing the total packaging cost per order by 29% and total shipping costs by 19%.

When retailers do good while doing well, everyone wins—consumers, businesses, and the planet.

To learn more about the role of technology in sustainability, check out our Sustainable IT Masterclass or watch our “Solving for Sustainability in Retail and Consumer Goods” on demand.

Maria McClay, Director, Department Stores, Fashion and Beauty, Google Cloud. Maria McClay is a director at Google Cloud, working with Fashion &

Source: Why Data Is The Key To Driving Sustainability In Retail

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Why Your Workforce Needs Data Literacy

Organizations that rely on data analysis to make decisions have a significant competitive advantage in overcoming challenges and planning for the future. And yet data access and the skills required to understand the data are, in many organizations, restricted to business intelligence teams and IT specialists.

As enterprises tap into the full potential of their data, leaders must work toward empowering employees to use data in their jobs and to increase performance—individually and as part of a team. This puts data at the heart of decision making across departments and roles and doesn’t restrict innovation to just one function. This strategic choice can foster a data culture—transcending individuals and teams while fundamentally changing an organization’s operations, mindset and identity around data.

Organizations can also instill a data culture by promoting data literacy—because in order for employees to participate in a data culture, they first need to speak the language of data. More than technical proficiency with software, data literacy encompasses the critical thinking skills required to interpret data and communicate its significance to others.

Many employees either don’t feel comfortable using data or aren’t completely prepared to use it. To best close this skills gap and encourage everyone to contribute to a data culture, organizations need executives who use and champion data, training and community programs that accommodate many learning needs and styles, benchmarks for measuring progress and support systems that encourage continuous personal development and growth.

Here’s how organizations can improve their data literacy:

1. LEAD

Employees take direction from leaders who signal their commitment to data literacy, from sharing data insights at meetings to participating in training alongside staff. “It becomes very inspiring when you can show your organization the data and insights that you found and what you did with that information,” said Jennifer Day, vice president of customer strategy and programs at Tableau.

“It takes that leadership at the top to make a commitment to data-driven decision making in order to really instill that across the entire organization.” To develop critical thinking around data, executives might ask questions about how data supported decisions, or they may demonstrate how they used data in their strategic actions. And publicizing success stories and use cases through internal communications draws focus to how different departments use data.

Self-Service Learning

This approach is “for the people who just need to solve a problem—get in and get out,” said Ravi Mistry, one of about three dozen Tableau Zen Masters, professionals selected by Tableau who are masters of the Tableau end-to-end analytics platform and now teach others how to use it.

Reference guides for digital processes and tutorials for specific tasks enable people to bridge minor gaps in knowledge, minimizing frustration and the need to interrupt someone else’s work to ask for help. In addition, forums moderated by data specialists can become indispensable roundups of solutions. Keeping it all on a single learning platform, or perhaps your company’s intranet, makes it easy for employees to look up what they need.

3.Measure

Success Indicators

Performance metrics are critical indicators of how well a data literacy initiative is working. Identify which metrics need to improve as data use increases and assess progress at regular intervals to know where to tweak your training program. Having the right learning targets will improve data literacy in areas that boost business performance.

And quantifying the business value generated by data literacy programs can encourage buy-in from executives. Ultimately, collecting metrics, use cases and testimonials can help the organization show a strong correlation between higher data literacy and better business outcomes.

4.Support

Knowledge Curators

Enlisting data specialists like analysts to showcase the benefits of using data helps make data more accessible to novices. Mistry, the Tableau Zen Master, referred to analysts who function in this capacity as “knowledge curators” guiding their peers on how to successfully use data in their roles. “The objective is to make sure everyone has a base level of analysis that they can do,” he said.

This is a shift from traditional business intelligence models in which analysts and IT professionals collect and analyze data for the entire company. Internal data experts can also offer office hours to help employees complete specific projects, troubleshoot problems and brainstorm different ways to look at data.

What’s most effective depends on the company and its workforce: The right data literacy program will implement training, software tools and digital processes that motivate employees to continuously learn and refine their skills, while encouraging data-driven thinking as a core practice.

For more information on how you can improve data literacy throughout your organization, read these resources from Tableau:

The Data Culture Playbook: Start Becoming A Data-Driven Organization

Forrester Consulting Study: Bridging The Great Data Literacy Gap

Data Literacy For All: A Free Self-Guided Course Covering Foundational Concepts

By: Natasha Stokes

Source: Why Your Workforce Needs Data Literacy

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Critics:

As data collection and data sharing become routine and data analysis and big data become common ideas in the news, business, government and society, it becomes more and more important for students, citizens, and readers to have some data literacy. The concept is associated with data science, which is concerned with data analysis, usually through automated means, and the interpretation and application of the results.

Data literacy is distinguished from statistical literacy since it involves understanding what data mean, including the ability to read graphs and charts as well as draw conclusions from data. Statistical literacy, on the other hand, refers to the “ability to read and interpret summary statistics in everyday media” such as graphs, tables, statements, surveys, and studies.

As guides for finding and using information, librarians lead workshops on data literacy for students and researchers, and also work on developing their own data literacy skills. A set of core competencies and contents that can be used as an adaptable common framework of reference in library instructional programs across institutions and disciplines has been proposed.

Resources created by librarians include MIT‘s Data Management and Publishing tutorial, the EDINA Research Data Management Training (MANTRA), the University of Edinburgh’s Data Library and the University of Minnesota libraries’ Data Management Course for Structural Engineers.

See also

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