Going for the Green

Retailers across the board are announcing new green initiatives on what seems like a daily basis. Technology partners can help retailers in their quest, allowing them to maximize their power performance.

Juhi Jotwani, director, marketing and strategy, Retail Store Solutions, IBM Systems and Technology Group, Armonk, N.Y., talked with Chain Store Age’s senior editor Deena M. Amato-McCoy about how retailers are leveraging their technology vendors’ “green” expertise. Their advice and offerings enable chains to further enhance retailers’ green commitments, help chains to become better corporate citizens and earn consumers’ trust and loyalty.

Chain Store Age: What are some of the industry trends that are pushing retailers to explore how technology can fuel green initiatives?

Juhi Jotwani: The three trends that have strongly evolved over the last few years include using more electronic solutions, conducting global retailing and focusing on “green.”

Today, these trends are pervasive on a large scale. However, the use of more electronic solutions consumes more power. Energy and pollution created by shipping goods globally is also causing concern. These have a huge impact from a technology perspective and retailers are looking to outside technology partners to meet their green goals.

CSA: What challenges did retailers have in the past in these areas?

Jotwani: Both large and small retailers have three focuses: maximize customer experience regardless of how the shopper interacts with them; reduce the cost of operations; and become a good corporate citizen. At the core of these three is how to use less power and translate this corporate responsibility enterprisewide and to its shopper base.

CSA: How can technology aid in retailers going green?

Jotwani: There are different aspects, but a strong one is power management, or solutions that help retailers use less power to run their businesses. For example, processors incorporated in servers, point-of-sale systems and kiosks utilize power in the store. This is one area that our retailers are asking for our help.

By learning how their data centers support efficient power consumption, retailers can learn to better manage power at store level. This is especially important as chains continue to add more locations.

That said, the addition of power-management solutions can help retailers reduce the amount of heat and power generated by their store-level hardware, including customer-facing solutions and units.

There is also a big focus on using hardware with lower-voltage processors. In the past, hardware was powered by 120 watts or more. Low-voltage processors can now run on 30 watts. Besides providing significant savings among multiple units across multiple stores, low-voltage solutions do not compromise computing power or transaction speed. It is simply an innovation that can put systems into standby mode when not in use, thereby using less power.

By linking these systems with power-management solutions, retailers can monitor low-voltage systems via a dashboard. Alerts keep users aware of problems, and reduce power usage.

CSA: What IBM solutions are aiding retailers’ quest to go green?

Jotwani: IBM has been a strong corporate citizen for a long time. In addition to power-management solutions, we focus on environmentally friendly packaging to ship servers and equipment.

We have also honed in on how to extend the life of IBM hardware. For example, our POS systems can work for seven years (more than 10 years in some markets). We help the environment by creating fewer obsolete products that need to be disposed of.

We are also focused on how to design more green “products” that use less power. For example, our IBM SurePOS 700 product has been designed to reduce power consumption by more than 36% compared to the wattage used in our older products.

Meanwhile, approximately 80% of product we shipped last year, mostly POS units and kiosks, contained recycled plastic.

We are also focused on other technology innovations like RFID and supply chain dashboards to help expedite distribution because of the impact transportation has on the environment. Besides being more environmentally friendly, they take costs out of the business as well.

I think all technology companies eventually will be forced to play in this space.

CSA: How can retailers’ green efforts help attract customers?

Jotwani: Focusing on how to go green and be a better corporate citizen is interesting, but that is not enough to attract customers. There also has to be an economic or social benefit for consumers. Retailers that can achieve these goals will be very successful.