The pandemic created a seismic shift in consumer behaviour and we saw a sharp increase in retail revenue secured from ecommerce. However, the trend brought with it some serious sustainability challenges, from sourcing environmentally-friendly materials, to packaging and transportation. Vaayu helps retailers to reduce their carbon footprint at scale.
It does this by drawing on sales and logistics data from point-of-sale systems such as Shopify and Woo Commerce or an API endpoint to enable retailers to monitor, measure and reduce their carbon footprint across their entire value chain in real-time. Since its inception in 2020, Vaayu has secured an impressive roster of global brands including Missoma, Armed Angels and Organic Basics.
You’ve worked in sustainability throughout your career with the likes of Arcadia and Zalando. Why did you focus on the retail sector and what excites you about it?
My career started as a sustainability strategy consultant across a range of industries but eventually, I decided I wanted to focus on one business, which meant looking for an in-house opportunity. The next question for me then was: which industry should I choose?
Outside of fossil fuel-generating businesses, retail is the next biggest pollutant industry. According to research from McKinsey, fashion specifically was responsible for 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2018, or 4% of the global total – a figure that has only increased since. The problems in the retail sector – from environmental challenges to human rights – were clear and that really appealed to me, because I knew I could use my experience to be part of the solution from the ground up.
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Climate change is an increasingly popular topic of discussion within boardrooms that leaders aim to solve. How significant are carbon emissions in the retail market and how can we respond to this?
Factoring in logistics, transportation and material sourcing, our own research has found that overall retail activity accounts for up to 25% of carbon emissions globally. We need macro data like this to be in the public domain and within consumer consciousness to demonstrate how significant and urgent the challenges are. Action on climate change and industry-level responsibility can no longer be an option.
COP26 and other top-down approaches can only go so far and as it stands the UN’s targets are voluntary. We as an industry need to go further and as the famous saying goes, ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure.’ Every business operating within the retail sector needs to take its share of responsibility and get under the skin of the business’ operations, be honest about the parts of the value chain that are environmentally damaging and make changes. The tools and technologies are there to help but we need to move from words and commitments to tangible action if we are to make positive long-term change.
Looking ahead, what are the challenges and opportunities to overcome in retail sustainability, and what can we expect to see from Vaayu?
For me, the biggest challenge within retail and more generally around climate change is how we deal with emissions because businesses are only going to continue to grow. The existing carbon offsetting and removal processes across the world cannot expel the quantity of emissions we have – and this is an issue across all industries.
With our own offering, we help businesses understand what levers they have to pull to really lower their carbon footprint across their entire value chain and we are committed to developing our product capabilities in line with that.
Our most recent platform update enables retailers to calculate and share the carbon footprint of each product – this is an area where we can have a hugely positive impact as it will inform everything from future product development to consumer purchasing decisions. We are also looking at our international expansion into the United States, where online sales grew by a third in 2020. With so many brands headquartered out of the US, it is a market where we know Vaayu can make a big impact.