How the latest tech is helping small businesses embrace sustainability

Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Nicky Chenery, general manager of EMEA at SafetyCulture, discusses how the retail sector can leverage technology to put people and the planet first

The climate emergency and changing consumer behaviour are turning up the temperature for UK retailers. With customers increasingly voting with their wallets, retailers are expected to do their bit for the planet. It presents an opportunity for regeneration — for a greener, more sustainable high street — and businesses need to lead the charge.

The major challenge, however, is the lack of dedicated personnel, especially within smaller boutique businesses. Most don’t have internal teams set up to manage sustainability frameworks. More still don’t have the manpower to fill environmental officer roles. As a consequence, the workload is falling on staff members who are already stretched thin.

With over half of UK businesses committed to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050, we must explore new ways for retailers to step up their game. Here’s how ‘smart’ sustainability can help retailers reduce its global environmental impact.

Work smarter, not harder

Change can feel overwhelming. Go green, be more efficient, overhaul your policies – sometimes the list seems never-ending, so it’s no wonder many retail business owners don’t know where to start. Yet procrastinating because we don’t have all the answers is even more dangerous.

Nicky Chenery

The best advice? Start acting now. Start small if you have to, but start. Change gathers momentum over time, and soon your movement will accelerate and grow organically. The reward for pioneers and early adopters is a competitive advantage – laggards will lose the race and market share.

And where do you start? Enter: technology. For organisations overwhelmed by the task at hand, easy-to-use and ready-prepared digital checks and training offer an efficient and effective way to embrace sustainability and start deploying progressive policies. At SafetyCulture’s recent industry event in Edinburgh, retail guru Mary Portas called for a sizable shift in how retail operates:

“It’s time for a fundamental change in how we operate – starting by prioritising our people and planet,” she told attendees. “Leveraging technology that can help that cause by connecting our people and communities, identifying opportunities for continuous improvement, and reducing our environmental impact will be critical to that journey.”

Start with a digital blueprint

Adopting new technologies during a cost-of-living crisis may not seem like the best time to invest, but it needn’t be a huge undertaking. With the right tools, taking action becomes smarter, not harder.

Digital operations platforms can help retailers integrate environmentally sound processes into their daily operations, and empower their frontline staff to take ownership of building sustainable working practices. Simple mobile tools such as digital checklists can streamline operations, and eliminate paper waste and resource inefficiencies seen by traditional paper-based processes. Not only that, they provide a blueprint for smaller businesses that may not know where to start.

In fact, we are offering UK retailers free access to our iAuditor app in a new Retail Sustainability Initiative, to help retailers go greener. This includes ready-to-use digital audit templates on sustainability, supporting organisations to review their processes in accordance with certifications such as ISO14001 and ISO50001.

With sustainable foundations set and all procedures housed in a single platform, retailers can then unlock the power of observation at scale. Imagine the power of that visibility: revealing improvement opportunities, adapting to change in real-time, cascading it back down so workers feel heard and understand the roles they play in the bigger sustainability picture. Every time that cycle repeats, you make your business more agile, adaptable and sustainable.

Jess @ Harper Sunday on Unsplash

Upskill, refresh, repeat

Even after switching out suppliers to prioritise sustainability, reducing your waste and investing in your local community, the job doesn’t stop there. A robust business is constantly seeking out ways to improve, evolve and thrive. There is no finish line. Best practice is continually developing when it comes to sustainability, so digitising your procedures is only one piece of the puzzle. Adopt a mindset of continuous improvement, and take your team members along for the journey.

Retailers can use microlearning tools like EdApp to upskill and enhance employee understanding of sustainability initiatives. These bite-sized lessons can help ensure effective and ongoing implementation, no matter how many improvements are made along the way.

As global crises continue to impact our daily lives, we must embrace new, smarter processes to manage them. We have the tools at our disposal — and as a retailer, it’s up to you what happens next.

Nicky Chenery is general manager for EMEA at SafetyCulture, a global technology company helping working teams get better every day. Its mobile-first operations platform leverages the power of human observation to give workers a voice, leaders visibility and unite teams to improve.