How Real-Time Data Can Reduce Emissions At Retail Operations

Facility executives of retail locations need to balance creating an incredible customer experience while meeting sustainability goals.

women in a retail store.
Adobe Stock/nataliaderiabina
By Jesse Gary and Kelly Land

For many people, a typical day might start with a trip to the local coffee shop, a stop at a gas station, a lunch run for a sandwich, swinging by the grocery store for dinner items, and with the seasons changing, a plan to pick up some new clothes over the coming weekend.

During this weekly journey, people are engaging with an industry that is pivotal to making our world more sustainable—retail. For facility executives and managers of retail locations, it’s critical for customers to enjoy the experience in their facilities, while mitigating their locations’ impact on the environment.

Building The Foundation With Data

One study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that the retail industry accounts for more than 25% of global emissions and that less than 20% of retailers are on track to meet their sustainability targets. At the same time, nearly all the retailers surveyed said sustainability is a strategic priority, not only for the good of the planet, but also a priority from a business standpoint—one that will drive revenue and give them a competitive edge.

Addressing this discrepancy starts with data. In fact, data is the foundation upon which carbon emissions mitigation strategies and actions are built, helping retailers curb Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions across their corporate offices, storefronts, warehouse/distribution centers, fleets, and from partners and customers. This data can be collected through the use of technology installed onsite to ingest energy usage data and then organized in an online portal to show data in near real-time within and across buildings at a more detailed level than building systems typically capture.

Through those measurements, retail companies can evaluate various strategies to implement at different points of retail operations, such as optimizing energy usage of a physical storefront or distribution center, electrifying the vehicle fleet, or coordinating a Virtual Power Purchasing Agreement (VPPA) to help offset emissions within the retail supply chain.

From The Baseline To The Goal Line

Once a baseline is established through data collection, start working toward the goal line. The possibilities for decarbonization services and operations begin to open up when data is aggregated and visualized across the operational footprint. For retailers, these include addressing Scope 1 emissions through their fleets and facilities, Scope 2 emissions through electricity consumption at their facilities, and Scope 3 emissions through the things they can’t directly control—their suppliers and their customers.

While data helps us look forward, it also helps us consider the past—using historical information to inform our present and our sustainable future. Weather data, including the time of day or time of month when temperatures get hotter, can be used to extrapolate the annual load curve. Peak operating times and customer traffic can also be collected and compared to historical data; companies can gain insights into optimizing their operations to potentially avoid high electricity demand charges during periods of peak demand.

Making ESG Reporting Easier

Similar to working toward sustainability targets, for many companies Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are a high priority, but reporting on them can come with a heavy administrative burden. This requires sustainability managers to dedicate a significant amount of time to reporting rather than executing on the company sustainability strategy.

Some organizations’ ESG data collection processes are highly manual. Frequently, the reports are generated by a team of people gathered in a room, going through the company’s utility bills, and typing that data into spreadsheets. This approach can also have sustainability teams playing catch-up—by the time they receive the utility bill and enter it into the system, a new month has already started with potentially different energy usage patterns and needs.

Gathering data with technology not only helps streamline the collection and reporting process, but also opens up the opportunity for insight far beyond a monthly utility bill, because the data can show how usage ebbs and flows throughout the day, week, or month. In addition, the technology provides that data in near real-time—removing the lag between the receipt of the bill and knowledge of current energy usage levels.

A Holistic View Is Best For Short And Long-Term Gains

It is best to take a holistic view of retail operations—it’s not just the storefront, but also the vehicle fleet, distribution facilities and headquarters—to help organizations reach their sustainability goals and address the difficulties in ESG alignment and reporting. It’s also important to note that at different stages of the retail supply chain, how we define the different emission Scopes changes. For instance, at a franchise location of a large fast-food chain, that building’s emissions are Scope 1. But, from a corporate viewpoint at the chain’s headquarters, emissions at that franchise are Scope 3. Therefore, it is in the corporation’s best interest to assist its franchise owners in reducing their emissions, so that they too may be able to benefit.

At its core, reducing emissions is good for the planet and it’s good for business. Using data to achieve emissions reduction is a risk mitigation effort that can help advance revenue and sustainability efforts at the same time.

 

Gary is Vice President of Energy Systems at Blueprint Power, where he runs a team that develops distributed integrated energy solutions by connecting on-site energy systems to energy markets that compensate property and asset owners for providing power flexibility when the grid needs it. Gary has twenty years of experience in renewable energy and energy efficiency across the public and private sector, including the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Air Force, and Duke Energy.

Land is a Houston-based Business Development Manager with Blueprint Power. He works with owners and occupiers of commercial and industrial facilities in the United States. His objective is to provide his clients with valuable real-time energy insights, strategic guidance on energy and sustainability investment decisions, and access to energy markets in order to realize increased operational flexibility and control.

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