Digitalization has been treated as a promising avenue to help companies incorporate sustainable economic, ecological and social values into their operations. This report focuses on the intersection of these trends and addresses the potential of digital tools to support the delivery of a food retailer’s environmental sustainability vision.
Digital tools are still in a nascent stage to support environmental sustainability decision-making. At Urban Deli, the authors found the use of digital tools remained unconnected to the delivery of their sustainability vision. The food company’s difficulty in unlocking the full potential of these digital tools illustrates challenges that are most likely faced by other retailers. Using sustainability information also remains a challenge for Urban Deli and other retailers.
The researchers also examined Urban Deli’s network of digital partners, which allowed them to see how actors in the food system tend to push responsibility for sustainability to others, despite the increased availability of information necessary to act. Retailers and digital service providers in this case study were found to be grappling with the same challenges that their individual consumers face: competing interests, complex trade-offs, and potentially high costs for implementing improved systems. These challenges, faced by consumers as well as corporate actors, point to the importance of a regulatory framework to achieve increased sustainable consumption at the pace of change required.
This research is one step towards filling a gap in the scientific literature, which has mostly focused on end-consumers of food products – individual or household food purchasers. More research needs to be done to show how retailers, which serve as the central node connecting end-consumers to supply chains, act in this space and what their impacts can be.