As Indians mostly consume fresh foods produced locally, 87 percent of emissions came from food production followed by preparation (10 percent), processing (2 percent), and transportation (1 percent) as mentioned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
China and India generate the most household food waste in the world, with an estimated 92 million and 69 million metric tonnes produced each year, respectively as per Statista.
A report from ClimateLinks - USAID mentioned that in India, the energy sector accounts for 68.7 percent of GHG emissions, followed by agriculture, industrial processes, land-use change and forestry, and waste, which account for 19.6 percent, 6.0 percent, 3.8 percent, and 1.9 percent, respectively, of GHG emissions.
What is Sustainability?
Investopedia defines sustainability as “the ability to maintain or support a process continuously over time. In business and policy contexts, sustainability seeks to prevent the depletion of natural or physical resources, so that they will remain available for the long term.”
The need for sustainable practices has only increased in recent years since environmental problems have worsened, making consumers react more thoughtfully toward green products, organic products, or just eco-friendly products. For a business, as critical as it is as a social responsibility, sustainability also helps businesses sustain in the long run against being boycotted on social media or through changes in environmental and governmental laws that would be brought about in the near future. Thus, retailers must adopt green retail, contract farming, plastic-free packaging and thereby reducing carbon footprints, and welcoming eco-friendly practices for sustainable retailing.
Now, given that the conscious consumer is aware of the impact their lifestyle choices and buying decisions make on the planet, it's more the reason why retailers must actively take notes and make amends, as and when needed. And these amends have seen the light of day in the past few years as several consumer goods brands and new companies are making waves by appealing to customers with strong ethics and business values, complete transparency, and long-term business models.
Why Should Brands be Sustainable?
Reputation: The effect of sustainable business practices on consumers is immense, especially in this extremely vocal social media-driven society. When a brand changes/creates its practices in an ethical manner to support environment-friendly living with also the betterment of health in mind, without lying for profit/gains through shortcuts, it can boost the brand reputation. It can further influence better customer purchasing decisions while also building trust and equity, not just for now but also for future generations.
Competitive Advantage: Those who are visionaries of the future, who innovate with their products, and that has value for sustainable living ingrained in them, will definitely have a competitive advantage as compared to those short-sighted brands who are running their machines and factories for what's in demand today given fast-moving trends. A few CSR activities on the side will not blindside the contamination they incur on a day-to-day basis. It will not go down well for them, as they cannot hide from the binocular eyes of today’s activists or even from social media’s-canceling culture. On the other hand, brands that follow ethical and social protocol, irrespective of how small the business, will grow to become household names considering the government's promotion and support for Micro, Small, and Medium businesses.
Reduce Costs: The whole phenomenon of sustainability being expensive is a hoax. It is not about just being sustainable but about being Smartly Sustainable. ‘Greening’ the business will dig into your pockets, but it does not have to be a one-time purchase. What brands tend to do is copy what other brands are doing rather than create innovative production processes or packaging that best suits their products or customers’ needs. It should also be looked at as an investment that gives you yields in the long run. For instance, investing in cardboard packaging now will increase your costs but as demand for greener or cleaner packaging grows as value for it sets in, it would move from being a cost to a profit. Other ways to save finances include using more efficient appliances and constructively reusing existing materials, as well as inculcating biofuels for production.
How Can Brands be Sustainable?
Plastic Packaging: We know for a fact that India has tried to make several rules to ban plastic packaging/carry bags from grocery stores by also going to the extent of raiding such stores. Bigger chains have also shifted to cloth bags. So, if retail stores can make changes, what stops big companies and brands? Plastic-free packaging is one way to make a move, but if not, recycling the plastic and converting it into biofuels is another.
What can retailers do? Promote brands that are eco-friendly, and educate the customer on the brand's initiatives- whether they have practices to reduce plastic or if they are 100 percent transparent.
Sustainable Products: Several brands have shifted to plant-based products. The trend to consume plant-based food was on the rise due to increasing awareness- the pandemic just accelerated it drastically. But how? The pandemic made consumers double-check their choices and select what's best for them and their families. Consumers are now more aware and knowledgeable about what they seek and question what they eat. Plant-based protein products saw a surge in demand since consumers started selecting what is good for them and the environment i.e. making sustainable choices! Plant-based proteins have the advantages of being easily digestible and being completely vegan, making them a safe and healthy option for consumers. There has been a shift from a meat-heavy Western diet to primarily whole-foods, plant-based eating patterns.
Contract Farming: Contract farming is a process that helps brands source produce directly from the farmers which not only ensures 100 percent transparency in the process but also ensures 0 percent wastage and better quality yield. This also helps the farmer get more income by eliminating middlemen.
Sustainable Grains: Contract farming can also be paired with grains like Millets such as Ragi, Jowar, Little, and Kodo which are extremely sustainable for the environment as these grains require less water, pesticides, and fertilizers and can withstand extreme temperatures and weather conditions making these grains ideal for sustainable farming which in turn can motivate the food industry to adopt these practices. These grains also serve as a boost of nutrition and can thus curb the nutritional needs of the country.
A sudden shift to sustainable retailing is not possible, it will be a gradual process and it will differ from business to business, product to product. Therefore, start by asking the following questions:
- What impact does the business make on the environment at large?
- What processes can be immediately applied with little to no cost (e.g.: reusing material)
- Do the practices go hand in hand with the brand’s values & ethos?
- Is the business capable of surviving in the long run without making major amends?
- How would sustainable practices create a better experience or perception for the end-user?
Once answered, gradually one has to make a move towards better practices. It is essential to also be certified by organizations that can testify for the brand to the consumer. Once the end-user/society views the brand as a solution rather than a problem, a small tick can be made to ‘Sustainable Retailing’.