Many UK retailers can now count themselves among those leading the way on today’s environmental and ethical issues.
You only have to look at Tesco’s launch of carbon-footprint labelling on 20 own-brand products, or Waitrose’s “green” tomatoes that supply its Rickmansworth store with electricity, to see the ingenuity, determination and hard work in the sector.
And they are just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless other examples that demonstrate the significant amount of time, money and effort being spent on being more eco-friendly across the industry, from food to fashion and DIY to electricals.
It might be surprising then, that as retailers become increasingly pioneering, they are also becoming uncharacteristically shy and retiring. More and more are playing down some of their biggest achievements. Take, for instance, Sainsbury’s roll-out of double-sided till receipts. It saves the grocer significant amounts of carbon, water and landfill space, but the development has so far had a low profile. The reason? It seems, as far as the mainstream media are concerned, that big business can’t do right for doing right.
Nobody can afford to ignore the green agenda – they must be seen to be tackling issues and making strides in all areas – but talk openly about your efforts and you risk accusations of greenwash (page 9). Worst of all, you open yourself up to levels of scrutiny that not even the most squeaky clean retailers can live up to.
It is ironic that the invention of the term greenwash comes at a time when good publicity – and the resultant rise in sales – are, in fact, no longer at the forefront of retailers’ minds when it comes to environmental initiatives. Leaders are recognising that, at present, their business models are unsustainable and they will not survive if they continue to operate in the same way.
The easy wins have now been made and all the low-hanging fruit has been picked, but targets still remain out of reach. The need to push forward, innovate and work together as an industry has never been greater.
Katie Kilgallen, supplement editor