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UK retailers see sustainability as a major business driver

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Image illustrating sustainability icon made using an artificial intelligence (AI) tool. Credits: FashionUnited

A new study analysing the sustainability of the UK retail industry through a survey of British Retail Consortium (BRC) members has found that 85 percent of major retailers outline sustainability as a business driver.

The report, ‘The Imperative to Act: Advancing Sustainability Maturity within the UK Retail Industry,’ conducted by BearingPoint, found that while 72 percent of retailers have a roadmap to go beyond minimum sustainability compliance, 87 percent still collect sustainability data, such as Scope 3 emissions, manually, and 74 percent lack tools for simulating the effects of sustainability-related changes.

BearingPoint identified four key opportunities for UK retail, from incorporating a longer-term view which includes future risks and ESG macro trends into their strategy to automating data collection processes and collaborating more effectively with external stakeholders, as well as recognising the role of employees in driving change across the organisation.

4 significant opportunities for UK retailers to become more sustainable

Acceleration in investment in data and technology should be a priority, as the study reveals that many retailers haven’t yet invested in data and technology to drive sustainability reporting, and this is impacting their ability to measure progress and inform decision-making. “By automating the process of collecting data, retailers will also have more time for value-adding activities such as co-development of new sustainable products,” the management and technology consulting firm added.

Retailers also need to incorporate long-term risks and ESG macro trends into strategy, as the study found that almost half (43 percent) of retailers were not yet considering the impacts of future ESG macro trends within a 10/20/30 year timeframe on their organisation’s strategy. It adds that retailers need to fully assess how different their future operating context could be and whether they have the right strategy to support this in the long term.

Collaboration with external stakeholders to ensure accountability and transparency is also key to success. BearingPoint notes that 70 percent of retailers have taken steps to communicate the sustainability of their products, and almost half (45 percent) were unable to state the percent of revenue that comes from sustainable produce/services, which would help to build trust and transparency.

Retailers need to accelerate investment in data and technology, as well as employees to drive sustainability

The final point is for retailers to recognise the role of employees in driving sustainability, as the study reveals that retailers have yet to realise the benefits of driving employee buy-in or training. Around three-quarters (74 percent) had no link between the achievement of sustainability targets and remuneration, while almost two-thirds (60 percent) provided no training or merely basic awareness training to employees outside of the core sustainability team.

Tracey Banks, climate action roadmap manager at the British Retail Consortium, said in a statement: “This report shows that for most retailers, sustainability is a business driver. They are working beyond compliance and taking account of the risks that climate change poses to their future. Almost two-thirds of respondents already report on Scope 1,2 and most Scope 3 emissions and the majority also encourage sustainability engagement through staff forums.

“However, there is still much to do. We need to see greater weight given to sustainability criteria in sourcing; clear links between achievement and renumeration at all levels and increased use of technologies for measuring and monitoring in order to drive down emissions. It is also key, given that 40% of respondents did not know what proportion of their revenue came from sustainable products or services, that retailers take the opportunity to grasp how sustainable products drive their portfolios.”

British Retail Consortium