How data is driving sustainability in food retail

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Tuuli Sarvilinna, Senior VP, Electronic Controllers & Services, Danfoss Climate Solutions, Danfoss


  • Internet of Things (IoT) solutions are helping food retailers to maintain the quality and safety of our food using the least amount of energy possible.
  • IoT sensor systems enable data-driven action that can transform food retail sustainability via proven reductions in food loss from temperature monitoring and energy savings.
  • To accelerate the transformation of IoT solutions, businesses, organizations and decision-makers need to collaborate to create a framework that will scale IoT implementation.

As the global community continues to deal with the impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, several governments are investing in green energy packages to help rebuild their economies. Buildings are responsible for 40% of global energy use, making them a crucial starting point for the Green Restart – an initiative to accelerate the pace of economic recovery and generate sustainable growth, by working together towards a decarbonized future. Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which connects devices that collect data and communicate to the cloud without human intervention, is poised to play a key role in tracking energy use and identifying synergies for building smart, integrated energy systems.

Our world is becoming more data driven, and we can see examples of this embedded in our everyday lives. Chances are, either you or someone you know has been collecting data on their health with a fitness tracker for years. But why stop there? By setting up an IoT sensor system, we can take data-driven action to transform your local food retailer’s sustainability through proven reductions in food losses and energy savings.

Food retailers poised for sustainability transformation

Food retailers are uniquely positioned to be active contributors in the fight against climate change. The grocery retail sector accounts for 2% of the electricity used globally – even more than data centres, according to the IEA – which means that implementing energy and asset-monitoring solutions across stores can make a significant positive difference at scale.

Sustainable supermarkets also play a key role in developing solutions for a global food system that is currently under pressure. Such supermarkets can help deliver on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which aims to “halve per-capita global food waste by 2030.” One-third of all food produced today is either wasted or lost, even as world hunger is on the rise. In industrialised countries, 40% of food is lost at the retail and consumer level.

Refrigeration costs energy, but is critical for preserving the foods we all rely on. The challenge for food retailers is, therefore, to maintain the quality and safety of our food using the least amount of energy possible. This is a difficult balance to achieve through traditional energy management and manual service checks. The solution is IoT monitoring, which ensures equipment is performing smoothly and consuming as little energy as possible, all the while reducing food loss.

IoT monitoring reduces food loss and energy waste

IoT technology makes the invisible visible, allowing timely action to take place before larger problems arise. Food retailers will receive actionable insights on how to improve energy performance and the health of their stores, and have the ability to set up controls based on the feedback that the sensors collect.

This isn’t a far-off, dream scenario; this technology is available today. In fact, IoT solutions have already been proven to provide food retail stores with:

  • 40% reduction in food loss through temperature monitoring.
  • 30% of total net energy savings via peak load optimization and reducing overall consumption.
  • Enhanced flexibility, allowing food retailers to store energy in battery banks and to redirect the heat from the refrigeration system to nearby homes.

IoT technology ensures that the right temperatures are maintained in food retail to keep food safe and reduce losses, while maximising energy efficiencies for the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, appliances and more.

Cutting energy costs and food losses will not only create a healthy and profitable supermarket business, but will also go towards building a healthier planet. Over the last five years alone, IoT solutions have saved $37 million for food retailers by cutting food waste, while avoiding more than 2 million tons of CO2 (equivalent to the annual emissions of Malta).

Focusing attention on sustainable cooling to improve resource efficiency

Food retailers today have a unique opportunity to create solutions for two of the world’s biggest problems: reducing food waste and combating climate change. It’s important that we don’t accept what stores are today, but see the potential for what they could become.

IoT is no longer limited by questions of accessibility or availability. The technology has been tested, proven and mainstreamed. In order to accelerate the transformation of IoT solutions, businesses, organizations and decision-makers must work together to create a framework that will scale IoT implementation and maximise sustainability opportunities.

We must collaborate to:

  • Raise awareness about IoT’s potential for improving food safety while reducing food losses and energy consumption.
  • Encourage equipment monitoring so that operational issues are quickly detected and resolved, improving overall resource efficiency and food safety.
  • Use IoT at scale to enable food retail stores to become active contributors to climate solutions.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.World Economic Forum | Centre for the Fourth Industrial R…

The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

IoT can improve energy efficiency and extend the shelf life of perishable produce, ensuring that the food and the store are healthy at heart. We must do everything we can to make the most of our energy and food resources. IoT enables us to reduce climate emissions through available technology – now we must scale implementation.

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