Iceland managing director Richard Walker has earned his place on the shortlist for the inaugural Retail Activist Award for his work in tackling plastic pollution. 

The son of the frozen food specialist’s founder, Sir Malcolm Walker, has championed the issue within his business and across the industry in a bid to address what he calls an environmental “scourge”.

Last January, Iceland boldly pledged to eliminate plastic packaging from all of its own-label products, replacing it with paper-based trays and bags, by 2023.

It has vowed that all of its new packaging will be recyclable, either through domestic waste collections or by using in-store facilities such as reverse vending machines for plastic bottles.

Iceland’s pledge to stamp out plastic packaging – the first by a major retailer – helped hammer home the message delivered as part of Sir David Attenborough’s BBC series Blue Planet II.

On the morning of its announcement on plastic, every head office employee was given a refillable aluminium water bottle.

The retailer has already stopped buying plastic bottles of water and soft drinks for its staff restaurant, meeting rooms and vending machines, replacing them with glass bottles and cans.

It has adopted a ‘plastic free’ mark on its packaging to raise awareness among its shoppers, and earlier this week launched a loose fruit and vegetable trial to further cut plastic use.

The initiatives have already helped Iceland reduce plastic at a rate of 2,000 tonnes annually.

Walker’s approach has made a mark internally, but far from being content with impact, he has taken the fight to social media, regularly championing the cause on Twitter and encouraging other grocers to adopt similar tactics.

He has also led the fight on other green issues after publicly warning the planet is “sleepwalking into an environmental catastrophe”.

Iceland’s Christmas advert highlighted a drive to source zero-deforestation palm oil, it is ramping up efforts to reduce food waste and it plans to drastically lower its carbon footprint.

Walker’s work across this range of issues – most notably plastic and palm oil – have firmly established him as one of retail’s most influential activists.

The Retail Activist Award

Walker has been nominated for the Retail Activist Award at the Retail Week Awards, sponsored by Salesforce.

The prize aims to recognise an individual who has personally championed a cause or led a campaign which demonstrates retail’s good corporate citizenship and contribution to society.

Walker is on the shortlist alongside James Timpson, chief executive of Timpson, for his work on employing ex-offenders; Dave Lewis, the boss of Tesco, for his work on tackling food waste; Steve Murrells, chief executive of The Co-op, for his work on global water poverty; Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland, for his work on plastics and palm oil; Alannah Weston, deputy chair of Selfridges, for her work on Project Ocean and sustainability more widely; and Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of Ann Summers, for her work on empowering women in the workplace.

The winner will be announced at the awards on March 14.