Products of Change

DRIVING SUSTAINABLE
CHANGE TOGETHER

Thu 30 Mar 2023 | by Rob Hutchins

BRC calls for retail sector to 'go beyond' government ambitions to hit net zero

The ceo of the British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson, has called upon the retail industry to develop “a more collaborative approach on sustainability practices” to go beyond government ambitions and achieve net zero across its stores and operations. Playing host to a special panel session at Retail Week Live this week, Helen addressed both the ‘giant challenge’ the retail sector faced when it comes to tackling its 200 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year and the opportunity the sector has to make a ‘huge contribution to climate conditions.’ A discussion attended by retail leaders across the UK including QVC, B&Q, Greggs, Sainsbury’s, Pret a Manger, Waitrose, and The White Company, there was agreement on the need for a “fundamental shift in the whole retail business model” as well as a requirement to go beyond government ambitions. Under Chatham House Rules, one attendee of the discussion talked about the requirement across their business for sustainability to be considered ‘business as usual’ and how they have sustainability targets as part of their employee bonuses to help drive change at every level. Others reported how they are working towards more of a cultural change through a drip feed of objectives and information. The topic of measuring emissions was broached when the BRC’s Helen pointed out that 80 to 90% of emissions in the retail industry are scope 3, meaning that carbon reduction strategies need to be inclusive of business’ supply chain emissions. However, with many suppliers based in China, there’s a general awareness that engagement with overseas partners is crucial to the overall journey with sustainable development. The customer has also been recognised as a substantial barrier to entry and while it was acknowledged that a mindset of ‘waiting for the customer to make the more sustainable decision’ is hugely unrealistic, there was a collective responsibility about how historically low prices had created an environment ‘where everything is cheaper than they should be.’ One attendee said: “We must get to a point where we remove the bad choice for the customer. It’s going to be a painful process, but it will be worth it.” The talk was concluded by Helen who called upon a more collaborative approach from the retail sector. “I am encouraged by the small wins shared, but it’s evident that there’s a lot of work ahead,” she said. “Retailers need to get the wider business involved and allow breathing space for employees across the business to stick their necks out and contribute.” The British Retail Consortium session on sustainability took place on day one of Retail Week Live at the InterContinental London – the O2. The event welcomes around 1,000 delegates from nearly 200 retailers and nearly 150 speakers from the industry’s leading household names.