There's not long to go until the Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit, which this year takes place in Kyoto, Japan. ESM chats to CGF managing director Wai-Chan Chan about what delegates can expect. This article first appeared in ESM May/June 2023.
The Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit takes place in Kyoto, Japan, from 6 to 8 June, with a call for retailers and consumer goods firms to come together and adopt a collaborative approach to tackling the unprecedented challenges facing people and the planet.
Featuring the theme ‘Pursuit of Harmony in Turmoil: Working Together to Make a Difference,’ the choice of location for this year’s summit is a symbolic one. It’s just over a quarter-century since the world came together to sign the Kyoto Protocol, in December 1997, to take the first important steps in tackling man-made global warming.
Today, the effects of the climate emergency are writ large around the world, which, coupled with conflict, the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruption and accelerating prices, presents a significant threat to the future health of the global population. In short, it has never been more important to come together and drive positive change.
“There are several reasons why we chose Kyoto,” Wai-Chan Chan, managing director, The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), tells ESM. “The original climate accord around Kyoto is not lost on us, and, in fact, we are having the summit in exactly the same place [the Kyoto International Conference Center] where they signed the declaration all those years ago. Also, we are a global membership, so there’s a question of rotating the conference to different countries and regions over time.
“The other reason is that the Japanese view in terms of how they think about living in harmony with nature is also very important. When you think about Japan, what are the first things that come to your mind? Often it’s about trains, cars, electronics, high tech, but it’s also about the way they live in harmony – how they try to balance everything in the world.
"It’s about being in a symbiotic relationship with everybody and everything around you – nature, people, employees and employers. It’s a whole ecosystem, and the Japanese understand this very well.”
Having joined as managing director in 2020, this will be the second in-person CGF Global Summit over which Wai-Chan Chan has presided – the first two (in 2020 and 2021) being solely virtual events. As he explains, it plays a key role in helping to instigate actions to address the biggest issues facing society and the planet.
“The idea behind the Global Summit is to convene global CEOs to discuss relevant topics, so that they can act as a ‘spark point’ for others,” he says. “We have around 400 members globally, and so many of them are involved in the things that we do – such as the eight Coalitions of Action, or the Race To Zero task force – but how do we get more and more of our members to join us on this journey? It’s about bringing them together, talking about very important topics, and getting them to take action.”
Coalitions of Action
The Consumer Goods Forum’s Coalitions of Action structure has been in place since 2020, and it is playing a key role in driving positive change in several key areas.
The eight coalitions (covering the topics Collaboration for Healthier Lives, Food Waste, Forest Positive, Human Rights, Product Data, Plastic Waste, the Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative and the Global Food Safety Initiative) are at different stages of their development, but they have already achieved some quick wins, particularly in terms of plastic waste reduction and combatting deforestation.
Improved transparency is an important aspect of this, and one that can court some controversy – recent data on the plastic waste totals of several consumer goods giants made for unsettling reading, for example – but every journey starts with a first step, and by acknowledging the nature of a particular problem, a path to a solution can be forged.
“We welcome constructive criticism from everybody,” says Chan. “We listen and incorporate as much of that as we possibly can. Obviously, there are some things that we can’t do, but we need to understand exactly what people think and the range of solutions available. We’ll never please everybody, but we can hopefully move the needle forward.”
The co-chairs of the Consumer Goods Forum – currently Daniel Zhang, chairman and CEO of Alibaba Group, and James Quincey, chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company – play a key role in shifting things forward. At the forthcoming summit, Zhang and Quincey’s tenure will come to an end, with two new co-chairs being appointed, and Chan is confident that the momentum towards driving positive change can be maintained.
“It’s going to be an evolution of what we do today,” he says of the forthcoming co-chairs’ manifesto. “The idea is to try and be a bit more inclusive, and get more members involved."
Time Running Out
Time is of the essence. Many CGF members have set 2025 targets in areas such as food waste, while 2030 – the deadline for the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development – also looms large on the horizon. According to Chan, the need to meet these targets was a topic that was discussed extensively at last year’s summit, and it is likely to be of even more importance in Kyoto.
“It is more critical than ever to do more, and do it now,” he says. “The fact that these dates are getting closer means alarm bells should start ringing. I think that will hopefully encourage more people to take action.”
For a day-by-day breakdown of this year's Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit 2023, check out the latest edition of ESM. ESM’s Stephen Wynne-Jones will be reporting from Kyoto throughout the duration of the event, so stay tuned to www.esmmagazine.com and social media for updates. For more information, log on to www.theconsumergoodsforum.com.