Following an insightful day one, The Consumer Goods Forum Sustainable Retail Summit concluded on Thursday with further analysis of how retailers and consumer goods firms can go further in terms of embedding positive sustainability, health and workplace practices into their operations, including guest appearances by major figures from the arts world – musician Brian Eno and filmmaker Richard Curtis.
Ambient impresario Eno was on hand to discuss his EarthPercent initiative, which encourages musicians to give a small percentage of their income to fighting climate change, supporting organisations such as ClientEarth and Julie's Bicycle. However, as he admitted, the idea of musicians, who spend much of their lives touring around the planet, fighting climate change doesn't sit well with everyone.
"We all have to accept we are going to be called hypocrites," Eno said of the EarthPercent initiative. "But what if in the process of being called a hypocrite, we start to reform the system a little bit?"
Screenwriter and film director Curtis (whose Notting Hill was incidentally broadcast on French TV the evening before the Summit started), appeared to promote Make My Money Matter, a scheme to encourage pension funds to support ESG initiatives, rather than invest in traditional industries like tobacco and the fossil fuel industry.
"More and more pension providers are committing to it," he explained, adding that Tesco is among the major firms that have already signed up to the novel initiative.
Setting The Agenda
Day two kicked off with a discussion with Emmanuelle Maire of the European Commission, which explored how Europe is transitioning to a circular economy, through initiatives such as 'Fit For 55', which contains legislative proposals to revise the entire EU 2030 climate and energy framework.
As part of its work, the Commission is focused on translating "scenarios into actions", she explained.
The importance of the 'race to zero' ahead of the forthcoming COP26 meeting in Glasgow was the core point of a discussion between Unilever CEO Alan Jope, Andrew Griffith MP, the UK’s Net Zero Business Champion, and Accenture's Peter Lacy, which led to a number of interesting takeaways.
As Jope explained, moving to a zero footprint structure "makes good business sense", although more needs to be done to put a real price on carbon, in order to facilitate change. "The consumer goods sector has a good opportunity to be on the right side of the [Race To Zero] challenge," he noted.
As Lacy added, the retail and FMCG sectors are increasingly finding that there are "important levers they can pull" in terms of their race to zero, although in tackling areas like Scope 3 emissions, "there is a need for collaboration", along with greater transparency.
Solutions that can nudge the consumer in the right direction needn't be complicated, as ICA's Per Strömberg, explained in a morning presentation – the retailer has developed an app that reads the CO2 consumption of the products a shopper buys, and offers recommendations on alternative items they could buy to reduce said footprint.
The private sector, he said, needs to "drive innovation and make a difference in the market, [and] try to push customers in the right direction."
The True Cost Of Food
Former Danone chief executive Emmanuel Faber sat with moderator Tom Heap for a fireside chat that explored the challenges and opportunities associated with sustainable food. "Cheap food does not exist," Faber explained, adding that consumers are not "paying the true cost" for food, when you consider the wider impact on the environment and society.
On the forthcoming COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Faber added, "The most important outcome for COP26 is that the 2050 discussion on net zero should be a given. What we need to ground is the 2030 discussion."
Paul Crewe of Anthesis Group hosted a panel discussion with Tesco's Anna Turrell and Reckitt's David Croft, on the need to 'activate' plans relating to sustainability. As Turrell explained, a challenging aspect for the retailer has been around tackling Scope 3 emissions, which has required a "new level of granularity and transparency".
According to Croft, the dialogue around sustainability is sometimes a barrier to action being taken. When it comes to ESG, "all too often, we have a conversation about risk," he said. "Don't just see risk, see opportunity."
The afternoon sessions included an analysis of how to tackle forced labour. According to Metro AG's Veronika Pountcheva, an important first step in approaching forced labour in the supply chain is admitting that not all supply chains are completely watertight.
"Not having forced labour in your business is a given in the eyes of the consumer – but the reality might be different," she observed.
As Richa Mittal of the Fair Labor Association added, much of the discussion on forced labour to date has focused on auditing, an approach that doesn't have all the answers – human rights due diligence is essential to get to the root of the problem.
"No matter how much you audit, you cannot fix forced labour," she said.
Resilience, Sustainability and Transparency
Former The Consumer Goods Forum managing director Peter Freedman chaired a discussion on the triple challenges of resilience, sustainability and transparency, which featured contributions from the farming, commodities and consumer goods sectors.
While progress has been made, speakers agreed that challenges remain, most significantly around encouraging those at the lowest rung of the supply chain ladder to join the sustainability journey. "If we ask even more from farmers, the question comes up 'what's in it for us'," said Ceftera Group's Bas Geerts. "We need more transparency, we need more co-collaboration."
Other highlights from day two included a keynote address from EuroCommerce president Juan Manuel Morales, discussing the challenges and opportunities emerging from the EU Green Deal; a presentation from Takaaki Nishii, president and CEO of Ajinomoto Group, on how the Japanese firm has put health and wellbeing at the core of how it does business; and a special session from Origin Green's Deirdre Ryan, which examined consumer attitudes to sustainability on a global basis.
Another special session, hosted by Google's 'Human Truths' team, explored how brands need to meet consumer expectations around sustainability; while the afternoon session also featured a discussion on opportunities to advance wellbeing, with the Wellbeing for Planet Earth Foundation; and an exploration of regenerative agriculture with Danone and Transparency-One.
Tech talks during the networking sessions featured insights from Maersk's Mads Stensen, MSD Animal Health's Matteo Ratti, and a joint presentation from PEFC International and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative on the topic of forest-positive collaboration.
Plenty to contemplate, therefore, as the world anticipates the forthcoming COP26 meeting in Glasgow next month.