The grocer grossed…

Dick SearleI really like the thrust of the recent Sainsbury £1 billion sustainability ’20 by 20′ strategy. How could I not? It kicks off brightly and confidently with material from Anna Ford (chair of the company’s corporate responsibility committee) and a strong statement from CEO Justin King.

The Sainsbury’s plan is well researched and closely argued. It chimes perfectly with the company’s modest yet strong corporate identity. As a UK citizen, it gives me confidence that one of our leading high street companies is applying so much care, vision and common sense to its sustainable future and to important global issues such as the environment.

And, heck, the new document doesn’t even get to the packaging topic until point 12 (out of 20) in the grand scheme of things.

But to read the subsequent media coverage and reportage of the Sainsburys you might very much think otherwise: The packaging issue manages to make it into the first two paragraphs of most news reports, if not the intro paragraph in every story.

I’m thinking that if Justin King, Ken Morrison or Philip Clarke were in it just for laughs, they may as well wear a checkout bag or a vegetable sack over their heads every time they stepped forward for the media.

Never mind the serious issues of fair trade, deforestation, farming, fisheries, animal welfare, nutrition, fossil fuels, carbon footprint and other important topics that have priority space in this new document. Those things can continue to take a rest while the focus moves back again to packaging.

So let’s get this right – one more time.

  • Packaging is a net environmental benefit: It saves much more waste than it produces
  • Packaging conserves the resources and products that society wants
  • Packaging offers shoppers choice – variety of goods and variety of types of goods (brands) – all day, every day.

Let me assure you that having an issue with consumers, consumption, or with ‘what society wants’, or with the variety and choice of products that society currently enjoys will not be solved by scapegoating packaging.

On the contrary. Take a good look into emerging country marketplaces and the wasteage there. Check on the effectiveness of delivery systems in our own supply chains for measureable and science-based answers.

As the Sainsburys ’20 to 20′ document makes abundantly clear; our leading supermarkets are a vital and central plank of our economy, and contribute greatly to its health. I fail to see how we do these businesses real justice by continually pointing to the usual totemic scapegoat.

Thanks again

Dick Searle

Heat, air and light…

The climate change select committee inquiry into consumption-based emissions reporting is now sifting and assembling the evidence presented to it.

The Packaging Federation’s submission was presented by the due deadline at the end of October and we now wait for outcomes.

The reason for this inquiry? To date, the UK has only been measuring emissions from UK-based producers of goods and services. Now the Government points out that ‘production-based reporting only takes account of emissions produced physically within a particular territory’. If a consumption-based accounting approach was to be used – that is, reporting the carbon embedded in all of the goods and services consumed within the UK – it is very likely that the emissions attributable to the UK would be shown to have been increasing.

Well, yeah, just a bit. Some recent studies suggest that EU consumption emissions have increased some 47% since 1990 and the UK’s consumption emission figures have increased by about 30% in the period 1990 to 2006.

I make therefore make no apology for having put the issue of consumer responsibility front and centre in our recent submission; urging our Government to get on, get out there – and do something about it.

In our submission last month to the Government we stated that ‘there is a clear lack of (political) leadership for consumers on issues of the environment and resource efficiency: There is an overwhelming need for a policy that bases consumer “education” on sound science and information. It is absolutely essential that policies directed at the achievement of real progress on climate change and resource use goals are based only on sound scientific assessment. Consumption-based emissions reporting is an essential tool in achieving accurate assessment of the nation’s true impacts on the global environment.’

Let’s face it, it’s simply not right; morally, or in terms of public resource or even strategy – to just measure a fraction of the whole picture; to bang the drum and tax UK manufacturing while ignoring a 30% rising trend in UK consumption emissions.

This is partly about clinging to the old maps while looking nervously into the territory itself: It recalls the old story of the man who dropped his keys in the front garden on the way to the front door and who busies himself searching under the street light. ‘Why are you looking out here?’ asks a neighbour. ‘It’s obvious – the light’s so much better over here,’ he says.

These issues serve to show us, once again, that clear thinking and fresh leadership is needed if we are to get this at all right. Otherwise, the darkness all around remains very deep.

Thanks again

Dick Searle