Co-op head of sustainable development Paul Monaghan said the recession is “heaven sent” in terms of curbing the radical economic growth that was destroying the environment.

Speaking at the Retail Week Conference, Monaghan said: “The radical economic growth would have hit cataclysmic levels and the result on the environment would have been completely destructive. We are now in a position where the unthinkable can be thinkable.”

He said: “This recession will be over in a couple of years and we then need to work out whether it’s back to business, in which case we’ll be in trouble, or whether we can rethink our position for the long term.”
Monaghan also said that sustainable development needs regulation.

“The only reason people stopped putting leaded petrol in their cars was because it was banned. Regulation is the start and finish of this debate,” he said.

Marks & Spencer director of Plan A Richard Gillies said the threat of regulation on environmental issues is needed in order to make sure that those retailers who are behind the move are on a level playing field with those who are pretending to take part.

He also said he believed some of retail’s traditional values will return in the recession. “Retail is about value, not necessarily volume. We have been in the volume race recently but retail has always been about value.

“Those shifts will take place. The perception of M&S used to be that clothes lasted forever and then recently that necessarily wasn’t good for us as shoppers wanted fast fashion. Some of the values that we used to have in the past will return.”