sweldonI recently carried out a number of interviews with top CSR/Sustainability Managers for a couple of book projects I am working on. As I am only lifting short quotes for the books from each one, I thought I would share longer versions here over the next few weeks.

First up is Stephen Weldon, CSR Manager of British high street bakery  Greggs plc, a FTSE100 company.

So Stephen, how did you personally get involved in the sustainability agenda?

Purely by accident! I joined a public transport company called The Go Ahead Group as a graduate trainee. One of the hot topics at the time was air pollution in urban areas and we were an urban transport company. So we starting researching technologies to reduce urban pollution air emissions and presented that at the Labour Party conference.

On the back of this, the Deputy Chief Executive decided it was about time we had our own standalone report, so we ended up doing an environmental report for the Go Ahead Group. I was at Go Ahead for another 13 years and did all of their CSR reporting.

What is the business case for sustainability from your company’s point of view?

It’s done because it is the right thing to do. It stems back to Ian Gregg’s view that a successful business has a responsibility to put something back into local communities that helped it grow. That’s the angle that Greggs originally came at SR from – giving something back to local communities, initially via charitable grants which is how the Greggs Foundation came into existence.- It has become a deeply engrained part of the culture of the company.

On the back of that, as SR has moved on in the wider industry, the environmental element has come in. Greggs is a big user of energy as we have over 1600 shops, each of which is in effect a mini production facility that burns electricity in the form of cooking, heating, cooling, lighting, tills, computers etc. We also have central production facilities and we operate our own distribution fleet, all of which require energy. The rising price of energy and fuel brings cost control into the SR mix, as well as the responsibility to local communities.

What are the main challenges you face?

The majority of developments in retail to grow sales involves consuming more energy. In the two and a half years I have been here this includes the roll out of coffee machines in every shop, the roll out of breakfasts (which means we are turning ovens on and baking earlier), the roll out of hot sandwiches, and the roll out of the frozen supply chain. All these things add consumption into the shop and because they are small self contained units, we struggle to maintain comfortable temperatures within shops for customer, staff and our equipment – if it is too hot, refrigeration equipment struggles to work.

A lot of the savings we can make in the retail area can be addressed through behavioural change, helping our people become more aware about energy usage and the simple steps they can take to save energy. We have a challenge to persuade them that a different way of working doesn’t necessarily take them more time, it just requires thinking and operating in a different way.

How do you go about employee engagement?

We don’t do the hard sell.. Try to talk to people on 2 or 3 different levels. One will be “this is an environmental impact”,one will be “this is a cost to the business” and one will be “this is an efficiency” - you hope that you capture most individuals in one of those. For some people, environment will float their boat, they will understand it and they will go “yes, we’ve got to burn less energy”. Others will think purely in terms of cost – this is more profitable for the business. For others you will have to put it in terms they understand – if you don’t do X, you’ll have to sell an extra 100 sausage rolls a day, because they know the time and effort it takes to make and sell 100 sausage rolls. Or you could say “it’s the equivalent of having an extra 10 person hours in that shop” because that’s the environment they live and work in. If you try and say, “we’ll save 10 tonnes of carbon” they can’t always fathom that.

How do you manage impacts in your supply chain?

We have a culture of treating our suppliers well and building  long term relationships over a number of years. Therefore it is about working with them in partnership to make improvements. One perfect example is a local fresh produce material used to deliver salads in cardboard boxes. It generated a huge amount of waste for us so we said deliver them in plastic trays, which we already use, we’ll wash them, sanitise them and you pick them up and use them again.

Our tea, coffee, hot chocolate, sugar is all fair trade because it was felt it was the right thing to do. The fair trade idea came from a university where we were putting a concession on campus. They said they preferred suppliers to deal in fair trade products and we looked at the possibility of doing fair trade coffee and concluded it would only make sense to do it across the business rather than for a single shop.


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