Hangers in a row

Sustainability in retail: making progress with AI, automation and advanced analytics

by Carl Rysdon, Vice President, Retail Industry


Learn how retailers can leverage AI, automation and advanced analytics to achieve sustainability goals.

Read time: 4 minutes

Nearly half of all global consumers are choosing to buy from brands with a clear commitment to sustainability. But there’s a paradox about sustainability in retail that often goes unspoken: how do retailers balance the desire for growing profits with the need for more meaningful sustainability efforts?

Because the demand for new products will never go away, the risk to the environment never will either. So, what’s a retailer to do?

Thankfully, despite the gravity of the issue, there is a lot to be optimistic about. In fact, 86% of consumer industry CXOs believe that “with immediate action, they can limit the worst impacts of climate change and move toward an improved future.”1

Here’s a look at ways retail businesses can make the most impact:

Let's make a difference together.

What you sell

Promoting sustainable products

Retailers can promote products that are environmentally friendly, such as items made from recycled materials, organic and natural products, and energy-efficient products. By offering sustainable options, they are encouraging customers to make more environmentally conscious choices — in fact 71% of U.S. consumers are willing to pay more for these products.²

In addition to product changes, retail businesses can work with suppliers that promote more sustainable manufacturing practices to reduce waste and minimize carbon emissions.

Manufacturers can achieve this with AI, which can identify opportunities for energy efficiencies, prioritize emission reduction strategies and even alert operators to production anomalies. IoT devices like smart sensors and meters can be installed within manufacturing plants and warehouses to monitor, analyze, regulate and control energy usage. And even before products get to their QC stages, tools like AI visual inspection can identify defects and ultimately reduce unnecessary waste in the production process.

Inventory management

For retailers, the solutions have been less than environmentally ideal – but without many other options previously available, products have been incinerated, destroyed, or simply shipped off to landfills.³

But today, there’s a better way to tackle this growing issue. Retail businesses can leverage technology to optimize inventory management and build more eco-friendly stock levels. By monitoring sales trends, accessing accurate inventory via technologies such as RFID, and analyzing data from a variety of sources, automated systems and advanced analytics can help retailers better predict inventory levels and reduce the likelihood of overstocking product—something that benefits not just the environment but their bottom line.

Automation tools can also significantly reduce the amount of paper that’s required in the inventory management process. By digitizing the workflow retailers can keep digital inventory records, attach POs, receipts, even manuals to specific item records.

Shelf replenishment and dynamic pricing

In the U.S., nearly 40% of food waste is happening at the retail level, with 30% of that strictly within grocery stores. This accounts for a staggering 3% of global emissions.⁴ To put that into perspective, it’s nearly as much carbon dioxide as the entire airline and shipping industries combined!

Thankfully, there are several technology solutions that can make a significant impact on eco-friendly retail practices. For example, serialized labeling of products are helping food retailers improve inventory visibility and expiry management of perishable foods while also addressing recall readiness. Or predictive data analytics that can quantify how weather changes will affect the sale of certain fresh food products based on past sell trends.

And, as food items approach their sell-by dates, dynamic pricing systems can help retailers automatically markdown items, making them more likely to be purchased instead of wasted.

86% of consumer industry CXOs believe that “with immediate action, they can limit the worst impacts of climate change and move toward an improved future.”

How you sell it

Augmented reality

As online purchases continue to increase, so do returns. And with only 50% of returned products going back on the shelf, the rest end up in landfills.⁵ So while retailers might be making more eco-friendly products, if they still end up in the dump there’s no real sustainability improvement.

Augmented reality can help reduce the rate of returns by helping online shoppers make better buying decisions and provide a better customer experience. By empowering customers with better ways of buying products, retailers can improve their return rate and reduce the carbon footprint created by moving product back up the supply chain and into the landfill.

Where you sell it

Updating facilities

Retailers can improve energy efficiency and produce fewer emissions from their stores or facilities by using more renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power, LED lighting, and optimizing HVAC systems.

AI can optimize energy consumption by analyzing data on occupancy, temperature, and lighting levels to adjust heating and cooling systems and turning off lights and equipment when not in use.


With positive pressure from executive leadership, consumers and investors, the retail industry can move the needle on sustainability.

The retailers that get it right will focus on making changes to what they sell, how they sell it, and where they sell it. In addition to making an impact on our planet, these retailers will also see stronger brand loyalty as well as a healthier bottom line.

Is improving sustainability on your radar?

Ricoh’s passion and commitment to environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility combined with numerous awards, sustainable products and services, and a team of innovative experts, means you’re in good hands.

This Earth Day, let’s make a difference together.

Carl Rysdon, Vice President, Retail Industry

Carl leads the Retail Industry team for Ricoh USA. He brings more than 30 years of experience helping retailers and brands solve their complex business challenges.

During his career, Carl has successfully partnered with many of the top global retailers and CPG brands to help them better serve their consumers and improve their bottom lines via a wide range of business transformation solutions in all areas of operation.

  1. 1Deloitte, "Sustainability in Retail: Profit, People, and the Planet" January, 2022.
  2. 2Bain & Company, "Sustainability in Retail: Practical Ways to Make Progress" October, 2022.
  3. 3Science Direct, "Product destruction: Exploring unsustainable production-consumption systems and appropriate policy responses" January, 2023.
  4. 4Grocery Dive, "Rubbish! Who says grocers can’t pursue sustainability objectives profitably?" November, 2021.
  5. 5Return Logic, "Are Retail Sustainability and Ecommerce Returns Mutually Exclusive?" March, 2023.

Recommended for you

How to record inventory shrinkage
How to record inventory shrinkage

How to record inventory shrinkage

Looking for inventory shrinkage management solutions? Here's how to record retail inventory shrinkage using process automation and digitization through document management.

Retail digitization: how retail thrives as a hybrid workplace
Retail digitization: how retail thrives as a hybrid workplace

Retail digitization: how retail thrives as a hybrid workplace

How do automation and digitization empower hybrid workplaces and fuel digital transformation in the retail industry? Ricoh's Carl Rysdon explains how.

Retail check cashing to reduce float time
Retail check cashing to reduce float time

Retail check cashing to reduce float time

Automation can expedite reconciliation and reduce check float time for retailers offering check cashing for unbanked or underbanked customers. This article explains.