I was out shopping for groceries over the weekend and noticed that my local grocer has now introduced a star rating system on their food products indicating overall healthiness. A simple metric system of 0-3 stars is shown beside the food label to help inform the consumer about the product they are about to purchase. Needless to say, as I started reading the star count for each of my produce items, I quickly found myself replacing my original options for healthier substitutes, using the stars to justify additional costs. Being provided additional information about the products I was looking to purchase allowed me to be more informed and thus make a more intelligent decision. While the local grocer current provides a simple scale for healthiness, it seems it won’t be long before products on the shelves will have a scale rating sustainability.

As of writing this, there has yet to be any regulation passed in North America for retailers to measure and disclose any sustainable related metrics for their products. This lack of regulation however doesn’t seem to be preventing some retailers from beginning to gather sustainability data on their own, even though a standardized approach has not yet been developed. One example that comes to mind is Walmart. Walmart is currently developing a sustainability index in an effort to help set the standards for product sustainability information, hoping to be a leader in presenting customers with sustainability related details to make more informed purchasing decisions.

Walmart is clearly serious about their sustainability tracking as they recently indicated being ahead of schedule, achieving their goal to “roll out the scorecard to buyers in more than 100 categories, [and] will add another 100 categories by the end of the year”

I have to imagine Walmart is pursuing this indexing effort for two reasons: the first to help set the standards, thus ensuring their compliance while having first mover advantage over competitors, and second because they see the growing trend of customers demanding sustainability related information for their products.

The implementation of a sustainability index at the retailer level also imposes some new business challenges for the manufacturers. Consumer goods companies will now be required to track and disclose their carbon footprint data to retailers like Walmart in order to have their product listed on shelves. This monitoring and tracking effort is going to be new to many companies, who will likely have to scramble to keep up and obtain the knowledge and processes to comply. Part of this growth for manufacturers will be the collection and management of large amounts of sustainability related information, and storing it reliably for auditing and reporting.

Another example of this changing trend in industry is the French food group Danone, which is now utilizing SAP to track and monitor the carbon footprint for over 35,000 of their products. Many companies may not be suited to undertake this data management and reporting, which is where I see growth in offerings such as Capgemini’s very own BPO service, helping companies by providing reliable data collection, process optimization, and reporting for sustainability related data.

So while I can take a bit more comfort at home this week knowing my produce is slightly healthier than it would have been without the informed product knowledge, I look forward to utilizing product sustainability data to make even smarter, informed purchases.