The Heineken may have been flowing at the official dinner the previous evening, but delegates were in their seats at 8am sharp for the final day of The Consumer Goods Forum Sustainable Retail Summit 2022, which kicked off with a debate on plastics and the circular economy.
Always a hot topic at this annual gathering of ESG executives, the discussion was subtitled 'Beyond the Redesign of Plastics'. It was hosted by Willemijn Peeters, CEO and founder, Searious Business, and featured executives from ICA Gruppen, Procter & Gamble and Amcor.
As P&G's Guillaume Lebert told the Summit, his company has "used sustainability not as an add-on, but as a starting point", adding that better communication is needed to ensure that customers understand what firms are seeking to achieve by switching to more sustainable packaging formats.
"You need to make it easy for them," he said.
Amcor sustainability director Gerald Rebitzer suggested that the 're-use' aspect of the circular economy approach has almost regressed over the past couple of years, saying that when he was growing up in Germany there was one beer bottle shape used by all, whereas today, there may be several hundred.
He also accused firms of "pilotwashing" when it came to circular economy initiatives, embarking on projects "that have no chance of scaling up" – a practice that needs to be eradicated.
Collaboration For Healthier Lives
Next up, Ahold Delhaize chief executive Frans Muller, who also co-chairs the CGF's Collaboration for Healthier Lives Coalition, spoke on the importance of empowering consumer choice, noting that access, affordability, convenience and education are all important factors to consider when seeking to engage consumers with health and wellness messaging.
"We strongly believe that change comes with collaboration," he said. "In these difficult times, we have to stay strong and find solutions together."
Following his presentation, Muller joined a panel discussion on the same topic, which also featured Ayla Ziz, chief customer officer, Danone and Pablo Montoya Davila, sustainability director, Grupo Éxito. As the panellists agreed, while much talk about customer engagement takes place at head office level, local initiatives are the driving force to ensure real change.
"The definition of what health is, is 'local'," as Danone's Ziz put it.
Next up, a discussion of the need to incorporate both people and planet into sustainable thinking was the subject of a panel discussion featuring representatives from Coca-Cola, IDH - The Sustainable Trade Initiative and the Meridian Institute.
As Meridian Institute director Mathew Jacobson noted, businesses need to make sure that the protection of forests and human rights are connected, noting "if we address deforestation without addressing the human element, we're going to fail".
IDH's Nienke Stam echoed this sentiment, arguing that along with a "vertical approach to deforestation in your supply chain, a horizontal approach is also needed", which takes into account the impact of initiatives on communities and people.
From Modern Slavery To Outer Space
Following a group workshop on 'designing your own regenerative ecosystem', in which groups were tasked to develop their own circular-economy concepts, the final segment of the day commenced with a discussion with Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, who spoke of the need for greater government intervention on tackling modern slavery.
As she explained, a lack of government intervention and legislation "with teeth" means that while progress is being made by businesses on addressing modern slavery, the issue remains, and even accelerated due to the pandemic.
"It's down to governments, in combination with businesses and investors, to drive change," she explained.
The day closed with a presentation from Angelo Vermeulen, space systems researcher and biologist, who drew parallels between how NASA and the European Space Agency have been preparing for space travel from a food perspective, and the current food industry challenges we all face.
"Every molecule is valuable," Vermeulen said of the 'molecular sustainability' ecosystem designed to nourish humans in an extraterrestrial environment. "Space gives you an opportunity to evaluate how we relate to resources."
It was a thought-provoking end to an insightful couple of days' worth of discussion on the challenges we all face – and which are becoming more prevalent with each passing year.